- (first published on artlifemagazine.com)
A visit to Hamburg Part 2 : New York Photography 1890-1950 from Stieglitz to Man Ray
Hamburg - Earlier I introduced you to Antony Gormley's Horizon Field Installation. A much less experimental exhibition can be found at Bucerius Kunstforum with "New York Photography 1890-1950 from Stieglitz to Man Ray". Situated close to the City Hall the private foundation shows an impressive selection of 20th century's most important photographers.
Everybody is present: Gertrude Käsebier, Andreas Feininger, Berenice Abbott, Aron Siskind, Andre Kertesz, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, ... - If you like photography this is your pantheon. All of the presented works are related to New York City and document its changes and the people who keep it alive through time.
The exhibition traces different movements, at the start opposing Pictorialism to Street Photography, but of course there are always unclassifiable artists, the differences fall together as early as in works like Alvin Langdon Coburn's "The Coal Cart" from 1910.
My favourite artist here is Arthur Fellig, known by his pseudonym "Weegee", who did not content himself with the work of a crime paparazzi but enjoyed to challenge social romantics that tried to capture the individual in the mass. Where Lewis Hine's "Steamfitter" and "Candy Maker" (1920) show decent people as they were (to contemplate with classic French Job Chansons on your MP3 player - Gainsbourg, "Le Poinçonneur des Lilas" etc.), >b>Weegee presents the mass as anonymous as it is: "Coney Island, 21st of July 1940..."
Then again he confronted this mass with another one, the upper class, in his magnificent work "The Critic": The photographer drew a female drunkard from The Bowery to The Met's 60th anniversary party in 1943, on his photograph she appears in the back of two It-Girls (or "It-Dotards") who are posing for the press, completely unaware of her disbelieving stare.
Other highlights are the videos "Manhattan" by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler (1921) and "In the Street" by Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb and James Agee (1944). The first one in classic silent movie style soaked with optimism documents the "anything goes" spirit of those days.
"In the Street" focuses on the average guy in Harlem; there is no text besides an introduction that delivers the thesis and the goal of this project: to show areas where "everyone is an artist and a warrior".
The images then mostly focus on children and you really envy them for the freedom they still had. Using slingshots to throw sand on each other without being disarmed by police, riding on the back of passing cars without paranoid parents screaming "Seatbelt", and strolling freely in the streets. And we should not forget their fathers were fighting in Europe at the same time.
If you have some more time to spend in Hamburg you might finally visit the "Kunstverein" with impressive sculptures from Alexandra Bircken; she uses everyday objects to create modern totems. Florian Baudrexel's "MERZ-Bau" influenced installation "Kneeling Window" in the same location is not bad, either.
By the way: A true "hamburger" is called "Fischbrötchen" and without any meat - put Sushi in a bagel and decorate with onion rings. To gulp down with cold "Astra" beer, cheers!
"New York Photography from Stieglitz to Man Ray", Bucerius Kunstforum: May 17 to September 2, 2012
Alexandra Bircken, Florian Baudrexel, Kunstverein: May 12 to September 2, 2012