Sunday, December 30, 2007

Candida Höfer

Candida Höfer's photographs of libraries are sober and restrained – the atmosphere is disturbed by neither visitors nor users, especially as she forgoes any staging of the locations. The emptiness is imbued with substance by a subtle attention to colour, and the prevailing silence instilled with a metaphysical quality that gives voice to the objects, over and above the eloquence of the furnishings or the pathos of the architecture.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is pleased to present an exhibition of the work of German artist Candida Höfer (b.1944, Eberswalde, Germany). "Candida Höfer: Architecture of Absence" is a touring exhibition organized by the University Art Museum, California State University, and the Norton Museum of Art. The Institute of Contemporary Art is the only northeast venue for this show.

This exhibition surveys over thirty years of work. It consists of 38 chromogenic prints, all of which have been borrowed directly from the artist's studio and her gallery in Cologne. It includes iconic works that have never been shown in the United States as well as the artist's recent and ongoing projects.

Candida Höfer photographs rooms in public places that are centers of cultural life, such as libraries, museums, theaters, cafés, universities, as well as historic houses and palaces. Each meticulously composed space is marked with the richness of human activity, yet largely devoid of human presence. Whether it be a photograph of a national library or a hotel lobby, Höfer's images ask us to conduct a distanced, disengaged examination through the window she has created. Not purely architectural photographs, her rhythmically patterned images present a universe of interiors constructed by human intention, unearthing patterns of order, logic, and disruption imposed on these spaces by absent creators and inhabitants. Her photos of ornate, baroque interiors achieve images with extreme clarity and legibility while the camera maintains an observant distance, never getting too close to its subject

Artforum art critic Hans Rudolf Reus writes of her work, "Only when observed can the elements of the photographically frozen moment in the building finally begin to play. At the same time, memories of familiar rooms and the odor of the unlimited archive of libraries, museums, and theater foyers mix themselves into even the occasional image of a contemporary building." The New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman writes, "Ms. Höfer is a straight photographer whose humanity and improvisatory spirit come across if we are patient enough to appreciate the serendipity of her light, the subtlety of her color and the quiet, melancholy pleasure she seems to take in finding, as if almost by chance, poetry in institutional form."

"Candida Höfer: Architecture of Absence" examines Höfer's unique oeuvre and the relationship of her architecture work to that of the Becher Circle-noted students of the Düsseldorf Art Academy's renowned professors Bernd and Hilla Becher, including Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, and Axel H ütte. Höfer studied photography under Bernd Becher from 1976 until 1982. Since 1975 she has had solo exhibitions in museums throughout Europe and the United States, including the Kunsthalle in Basel and Bern, Portikus in Frankfurt am Main, the Hamburger Kunsthalle, and the Power Plant in Toronto. She has participated in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Kunsthaus Bregenz, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and Documenta 11. She represented Germany at the Venice Biennale (together with the late Martin Kippenberger) and is represented by galleries in Europe and the United States. She lives and works in Cologne, Germany.

Among the prominent disciples of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, Candida Höfer may still be the most underrated, as these two gorgeous shows remind us. ''Traces,'' at the Goethe-Institut, is a small group of photographs, from the past five years, of the interiors of libraries and museums: Beinecke at Yale, the Pierpont Morgan in New York, the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig and others. Sonnabend Gallery offers a larger number of new pictures: other buildings (museums, palaces, libraries) in Venice, Germany and the Netherlands.

For more than 30 years, Ms. Höfer has been compiling her deadpan inventory of public spaces, a social catalog of architectural history. Empty and vast, these places can sometimes seem like just occasions for photographic spectacle, the pictures are often so chillingly awesome. But Ms. Höfer is a straight photographer whose humanity and improvisatory spirit come across if we are patient enough to appreciate the serendipity of her light, the subtlety of her color and the quiet, melancholy pleasure she seems to take in finding, as if almost by chance, poetry in institutional form.Her real topic is ambience, a fleeting sensation. Her challenge is to avoid both the dry architectural document and clinical abstraction. When Ms. Höfer's work succeeds, it implies a secret world. You might say she captures the ghosts moving through these spaces, leaving their traces.

They appear in the willowy shapes of three pools of light, like the Three Graces, cast by the trio of tall windows onto the marble floor of the Ca' Rezzonico. Blinding light through the doorway of the archaeological museum in Venice is another trace, which dissolves the sculptures in the room, leaving only an arrow visible on the interior wall, pointing visitors as if into the ether. And in a library in Utrecht, Ms. Höfer catches the ghostly interplay of distilled white light through arched windows with the white of a sculptured bust, different from the white on the railings that frame shelves of books, some yet another white -- a kind of formal call and response.

Her self-portrait in a mirror at the Palazzo Zenobia, nodding toward Velázquez, is a reflection of a reflection of a room full of trompe l'oeil paintings of sculptures, themselves illusions, ghosts of ghosts. Ms. Höfer stands at the center, nearly hiding behind her camera in the empty space, capturing the essence of absence. MICHAEL KIMMELMAN

“I photograph in public and semi-public spaces that date from various epochs. These are spaces accessible to everyone. They are places where you can meet and communicate, where you can share or receive knowledge, where you can relax and recover. They are spas, hotels, waiting rooms, museums, libraries, universities, banks, churches and, as of a few years ago, zoos. All of the places have a purpose, as for the most part do the things within them.”

Along with Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer belongs to the first generation of students who attended Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photography class at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. Cool objectivity, a precise grasp of details, and an eye for structure are what characterize the work of the teachers – and of their students. In Candida Höfer’s case, she also brings to bear a distinctive interest in rows and orders. Since the 1980s, her principle motif has been interiors which she captures in thematic blocks and standardized formats.

Apart from surfaces and forms, light and color are strongly present in her works. Irrespective of whether the lighting is artificial or natural, Candida Höfer relies on the light available, considering it an integral part of the interior in question. Yet this does not imply that she regards her work as mere documentation. What she wants is to reproduce the particular atmosphere of a room – not as the human eye would, but through the eye of a camera.

Candida Höfer immerses herself fully in the aesthetic autonomy of abstract structures. Mainly, she shows us rooms bereft of occupants and thus not performing their actual function. Yet at the same time, the photographs cannot and do not wish to deny the existence of actual persons. Nothing is self-evident or assumed, everything has a story: empty rows of tables and chairs, books standing in a row, various architectural styles, overlapping historical epochs. Candida Höfer’s peopleless rooms are cultural spaces in which change is given tangible form. People are not omitted, they just don't happen to be present.

Still thinking about the landscapes of Elger Esser, contrasting them to Edward Burtynsky, which is probably not fair. But thinking of how photographers deal with space--and why a photograph may be the appropriate mode of capturing space in our uncontainable present, or perhaps (and here I'm thinking of Rachel Whiteread among others) more accurately, our uncontainable absence...
I am haunted by "Architecture of Absence," the Candida Höfer exhibit I saw last year at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. The large format images resonate with human potential--their emptiness speaking somehow to that potential. There is no nostalgia, no sorrow, but rather a revelation of intention, of expectation. Entrance ways, libraries, museums, theaters--all reverberating with human presence, despite the absence of human form. As if the hands that created the forms, and placed the forms, and picked up and put down the forms, were hovering there. And perhaps it is scale: the grand canvas, the sheer number of objects she is able to include. The images become a kind of cabinet of curiosity. Then there is light, the way Hofer courts it as it falls through space.
Lemon Hound

Big, bold and empty. Seductive, yet surprisingly intimate and evocative. The monumental photographs of Candida Höfer capture the contemporary zeitgeist of a world communicated through interiors, from grand historic palaces to upscale restaurants, libraries, museums and metro stations. From Venice to New York, Oslo to Madrid, whether making a photo of a hotel lobby or a national library, this German photographer asks viewers to engage in a distanced, objective examination of interior spaces. Not purely architectural, the rhythmically patterned photographs create a universe of interiors constructed by human intent, revealing the influence of order and logic imposed on these spaces by their now absent creators and inhabitants. inhabitants.

“Architecture of Absence,” a recent nationally touring, midcareer overview of 50 C-prints, offered the first major Englishlanguage survey. Organized by the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach; and the University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach; the exhibition examined the singular quality of Höfer’s work that has made her one of the most accomplished and inventive artists of her generation.

Artforum critic Hans Rudolf Reus writes of her work, “Only when observed can the elements of the photographically frozen moment in the building finally begin to play. At the same time, memories of familiar rooms and the odor of the unlimited archive of libraries, museums and theater foyers mix themselves into even the occasional image of a contemporary building.” Born in 1944, Höfer, the daughter of a ballet dancer and a theater critic/journalist, traces her preoccupation with architecture to the devastation she saw as a child in war-torn Cologne, where she observed the reconstruction process firsthand. As an adult, she focused this ongoing interest on interiors, on those public spaces typically seen as centers of cultural life.

Anonymous architecture was also a favorite subject of Höfer’s most famous teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher. In the early 1960s, the pair used black-and-white photography to document gas tanks, cooling towers and other heavy industrial sites in Germany. Their work went largely unnoticed until the 1970s, when their detached, restricted aesthetic caught on with a new generation of photographers interested in minimal and conceptual art. Their rising currency in the art world won Bernd Becher a professorship at Düsseldorf’s Kunstakademie in 1976. When Höfer was 29, after already working as a freelance photographer and studying film with Ole John, she began her studies at the academy, which continued through 1982. Artists such as Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter had made the Kunstakademie the focal point of Germany’s postwar avant-garde. Höfer, along with Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, was among those photographers who studied with the Bechers as they shaped not only a new generation of artist photographers, but also an art market in Germany that began to boom.

Students in Bernd Becher’s class usually worked with the view camera, and Höfer adopted it at his urging. Beginning with her earliest work, her subject was not landscape or architecture, but space itself. She soon discovered that she preferred the spaces uncomplicated by people moving through her rigorously composed frames when photographing. While Höfer’s early style closely emulated that of the Bechers, she worked in color from the outset. Her exclusive focus on interiors and her unequaled gift for capturing interiors within the picture plane soon set her apart now associate curator of photography at the J. Paul Getty Museum), writes: “From 1979 to 1991 her depictions of architectural interiors—whether spas, museums, or lecture or performance halls—tend to emphasize a diagonal view of the space; a perspective view based on a two-point (or angular) perspective that encourages entry from one side or the other. Beginning in 1991, with images such as ‘Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen I,’ the relationship of the furthest wall in the space became increasingly parallel, creating an elevational view that approaches a one-point (or parallel) perspective. This one-point perspective is emphasized to tremendous effect in photographs made in 1997, such as ‘Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX’ and ‘Biblioteque Sainte-Geneviève Paris II’ in which desks, lamps, and ceiling treatments march back to that point, resulting in compositions that can be appreciated equally with each rotation of 90 degrees.” She was the last of her group to increase the scale of her prints to approximate that of paintings. In 1994, she added the square format (60 x 60-inch) to her approach, which served to emphasize the ethereal sense of quiet and the anticipation of presence that characterizes her images.
Virginia Heckert, curator of photography at the Norton Museum of Art

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Givanni Battista Piranese

Giovanni Battista (also Giambattista) Piranesi (4 October 1720 - 9 November 1778) was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric "prisons" (Carceri d'Invenzione).

Piranesi was born in Mogliano Veneto, near Treviso, then part of the Republic of Venice. His brother Andrea introduced him to Latin and the ancient civilization, and later he studied as an architect under his uncle, Matteo Lucchesi, who was Magistrato delle Acque, a Venetian engineer who specialized in excavation.

From 1740 he was in Rome with Marco Foscarini, the Venetian envoy to the Vatican. He resided in the Palazzo Venezia and studied under Giuseppe Vasi, who introduced him to the art of etching and engraving. After his studies with Vasi, he collaborated with pupils of the French Academy in Rome to produce a series of vedute (views) of the city; his first work was Prima parte di Architettura e Prospettive (1743), followed in 1745 by Varie Vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna.

From 1743 to 1747 he sojourned mainly in Venice where, according to some sources, he frequented Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. He then returned to Rome, where he opened a workshop in Via del Corso. In 1748-1774 he created a long series of vedute of the city which established his fame. In the meantime Piranesi devoted himself to the measurement of much of the ancient edifices: this led to the publication of Antichità Romane de' tempo della prima Repubblica e dei primi imperatori ("Roman Antiquities of the Time of the First Republic and the First Emperors". In 1761 he became a member of the Accademia di San Luca and opened a printing facility of his own. In 1762 the Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma collection of engravings was printed.

The following year he was commissioned by Pope Clement XIII to restore the choir of San Giovanni in Laterano, but the work did not materialize. In 1764 Piranesi started his sole architectural works of importance, the restoration of the church of Santa Maria del Priorato in the Villa of the Knights of Malta in Rome, where he was buried after his death.

In 1767 he was created knight of the Papal States. In 1776 he created his famous Piranesi Vase, his best known work as a 'restorer' of ancient sculpture. In 1777-78 Piranesi published Avanzi degli Edifici di Pesto, (Remains of the Edifices of Paestum) a collection of views of Paestum.

He died in Rome in 1778 after a long illness.

Thomas De Quincey in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1820) wrote the following:

“ "Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi's Antiquities of Rome, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist ... which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever: some of them (I describe only from memory of Mr. Coleridge's account) representing vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, etc., etc., expressive of enormous power put forth, and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity, except into the depths below. ... But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher: on which again Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aerial flight of stairs is beheld: and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labors: and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall. ...

Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova (November 1, 1757 - October 13, 1822) was an Italian sculptor who became famous for his marble sculptures that delicately rendered nude flesh. The epitome of the neoclassical sculptor, his work marked a return to classical refinement after the theatrical excesses of Baroque art.

Antonio Canova was born in Possagno, a village in the Veneto situated amid the recesses of the hills of Asolo, where these form the last undulations of the Venetian Alps, as they subside into the plains of Treviso. At three years of age Canova was deprived of both parents, his father dying and his mother remarrying. Their loss, however, was compensated by the tender solicitude and care of his paternal grandfather and grandmother, the latter of whom lived to experience in her turn the kindest personal attention from her grandson, who, when he had the means, gave her an asylum in his house at Rome.

His father and grandfather followed the occupation of stone-cutters or minor statuaries; and it is said that their family had for several ages supplied Possagno with members of that calling. As soon as Canova's hand could hold a pencil, he was initiated into the principles of drawing by his grandfather Pasino. The latter possessed some knowledge both of drawing and of architecture, designed well, and showed considerable taste in the execution of ornamental works. He was greatly attached to his art; and upon his young charge he looked as one who was to perpetuate, not only the family name, but also the family profession.

The early years of Canova were passed in study. The bias of his mind was to sculpture, and the facilities afforded for the gratification of this predilection in the workshop of his grandfather were eagerly improved. In his ninth year he executed two small shrines of Carrara marble, which are still extant. Soon after this period he appears to have been constantly employed under his grandfather. Amongst those who patronized the old man was the patrician family Falier of Venice, and by this means young Canova was first introduced to the senator of that name, who afterwards became his most zealous patron.

The kindness of some monks supplied him with his first workshop, which was the vacant cell of a monastery. Here for nearly four years he labored with the greatest perseverance and industry. He was also regular in his attendance at the academy, where he carried off several prizes. But he relied far more on the study and imitation of nature. A large portion of his time was also devoted to anatomy, which science was regarded by him as the secret of the art. He likewise frequented places of public amusement, where he carefully studied the expressions and attitudes of the performers. He formed a resolution, which was faithfully adhered to for several years, never to close his eyes at night without having produced some design. Whatever was likely to forward his advancement in sculpture he studied with ardour. On archaeological pursuits he bestowed considerable attention. With ancient and modern history he rendered himself well acquainted and he also began to acquire some of the continental languages.

Three years had now elapsed without any production coming from his chisel. He began, however, to complete the group for his patron, and the Orpheus which followed evinced the great advance he had made. The work was universally applauded, and laid the foundation of his fame. Several groups succeeded this performance, amongst which was that of Daedalus and Icarus, the most celebrated work of his noviciate. The terseness of style and the faithful imitation of nature which characterized them called forth the warmest admiration. His merits and reputation being now generally recognized, his thoughts began to turn from the shores of the Adriatic to the banks of the Tiber, for which he set out at the commencement of his twenty-fourth year.