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In Dreams: Grete Stern’s powerful feminist surrealism
08.18.2017
11:17 am
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In 1948, the photographer Grete Stern was asked to contribute photographic illustrations for a weekly column on the interpretation of dreams in the Argentinian women’s magazine Idilio. The column entitled “El psicoanálisis le ayudará” (“Psychoanalysis will help you”) was written by Italian sociologist Gino Germani under the novel pseudonym of Richard Rest. Psychoanalysis was then considered the cure-all for everyone’s ills—though goodness knows what strange subconscious thought inspired Germani to choose the name “Dick” Rest….

Anyway…while Rest analyzed one of the many dreams submitted by the mainly working-class female readership, Stern produced a photomontage that recreated some aspect of the reader’s dream. These illustrations usually depicted women struggling to free themselves from the oppressive patriarchy of Argentinian society.

For example, in one image a woman is trying to communicate on a phone without a mouth. In another, a woman is trying to grow in the light which can be turned off on a whim by a giant man’s hand. Or there is the woman whose reflection in a mirror has shattered into fragments, or the woman housed in a birdcage like some exotic bird. And so on. During her tenure with Idilio, Stern produced around 150 photomontages between 1948 and 1951.

Grete Stern was born in Elberfeld, Germany, on May 9th, 1904. Her family were involved in the textile and fabric industry and made frequent visits on business to England, where Stern first attended school. Returning to Germany, Stern studied graphic design and typography at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Stuttgart between 1923-25. After college, she became a freelance graphic designer producing adverts for magazines and papers. However, it was after seeing an exhibition by the American photographer Edward Weston, that Stern decided on a career as a photographer.

Stern moved to Berlin where she became a photographic student under the tutelage of Walter Peterhans. Stern later said that Peterhans taught her that the camera was not just a mechanism for taking pictures but a whole new way of seeing. Peterhans went onto become the leading photographer with the Bauhaus movement. During her studies, Stern became close friends with another pupil Ellen (Rosenberg) Auerbach. Together they formed the advertising and portrait studio ringl+pit. The company name was concocted from the pair’s nicknames—Ringl for Grete and Pit for Ellen. Their work became highly successful—in particular their mixing of photographic images with text. During this time, Stern met and started a relationship with Argentinian photographer Horacio Coppola.

When Adolf Hitler and his band of Nazi thugs came to power, Stern left ringl+pit and moved with Coppola to England where she formed her own studio in 1934. Here she documented many of the German exiles like Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel. In 1935, Stern and Coppola married. With the threat of war more apparent, Stern and Coppola moved to Buenos Aires, where they set up a graphic, advertizing, and photographic studio and held the first major exhibition of “modern photography” in the city.

Stern was way ahead of the curve. She was a pioneer for women working in a male-dominated and, let’s be honest, primarily sexist industry. Stern became a highly successful and inventive portrait photographer with her work exhibited and published across the world. However, the photomontages she produced for Idilio were long discounted as just hack work until their reassessment labeled them as what they are: powerful, imaginative, feminist artwork.

Stern died at the age of 95 in 1999.
 
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More of Grete Stern’s dream work, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.18.2017
11:17 am
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‘The Silence of the Angel’: Paul Klee’s notebooks are now online

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“Art,” Paul Klee (1879-1940) once observed, “does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” It’s a fair description of Klee’s rich and diverse body of artworks produced during his forty year career. Just looking at his phenomenal output of some 10,000 artworks tells a fairly accurate history of Modern Art, as Klee adopted, studied then discarded the ideas and forms of the twentieth century’s major artistic movements—Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction and the Bauhaus school.

Klee became a great artist, and was also a poet, writer, composer and musician, but he could have been just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill traditional painter had he not had a startling epiphany in his early twenties, circa 1900. He was studying painting under artist Franz von Stuck in Germany. Klee excelled at drawing but was deeply frustrated and dissatisfied by his lack of aptitude as a painter. He felt unable to express himself, to move beyond mere reproduction. One day, he was browsing through his old belongings in the attic when he chanced upon paintings he had made as a child. There in front of him was what he was desperately trying to achieve—immediacy, vibrancy, and color.

Klee later wrote:

Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age.

It changed his approach to painting and so began the career of one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists.
 
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‘Steps’ (1929).
 
Everyone’s seen a Klee painting—they’re forever appearing on greeting cards or postcards or posters. His work is ubiquitous because he kept developing and changing as an artist while maintaining a very personal vision. When collected together in a gallery, the variety and power of each of his paintings demands close attention “like reading a book or a musical score.”
 
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‘Park near Lu’ (1938).
 
During his life, Klee wrote down his theories and ideas about art in various notebooks.  In particular two volumes of lectures he gave at the Bauhaus gymnasiums during the 1920s—The Thinking Eye and The Nature of Nature—are “considered so important for understanding Modern Art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo’s A Treatise on Painting had for the Renaissance.”
 
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Pages from the ‘The Thinking Eye.’
 
If that wasn’t grand enough of blurb for a book jacket, the renowned art critic, anarchist and thinker Herbert Read (1893-1968) declared Klee’s notebooks as:

...the most complete presentation of the principles of design ever made by a modern artist – it constitutes the Principia Aesthetica of a new era of art, in which Klee occupies a position comparable to Newton’s in the realm of physics.

The reason these notebooks are so valuable is perhaps best described by Klee himself who claimed when he came to be a teacher he had “to account explicitly for what I had been used to doing unconsciously.”

More after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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03.03.2016
11:18 am
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The far-out sci-fi costume parties of the Bauhaus school in the 1920s
12.31.2015
10:25 am
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Bauhaus school costume party, 1920s
Bauhaus school costume party, 1920s
 
As we get ready to tell yet another year to kiss our collective asses on its way out the door, that also means it’s almost time for that annual liver-killing bacchanal known as New Year’s Eve. But no matter what you have planned this year, I’m fairly certain that your party will not even come close to the costume parties thrown by students and teachers of Germany’s Bauhaus school back in the 1920s.
 
Bauhaus costume party, 1920s
 
Sadly, there are not many surviving photographs of the costumed shindigs thrown at the school, which was founded by the revered German architect Walter Adolph Georg Gropius. It has been said that attendees of the costume parties took the preparation of their costumes as seriously (if not more so) as their studies at the school and the results were a spellbinding array of imagery created by the upper crust vanguard that made up Bauhaus’ academic population. Such as Russian abstract painter, Wassily Kandinsky and the great painter, Paul Klee both of whom taught classes at Bauhaus for approximately a decade starting in the very early 1920s.
 
Bauhaus costumes by Bauhaus mural and sculpture department head and later theater workshop director, Oskar Schlemmer (1925)
Bauhaus costumes by Bauhaus Mural and Sculpture Department head (and later Theater Workshop director), Oskar Schlemmer (1925)
 
As for the the school itself, Gropius was very specific about the type of students he and his free-wheeling, arty-administration wanted roaming the halls of Bauhaus. As detailed in his 1925 essay, “Life at the Bauhaus,” then student and Hungarian architect, Farkas Ferenc Molnár, described the very specific “party people” attributes a prospective student should possess before deciding to pursue their studies the school:

For someone to be admitted to the Bauhaus workshops he or she must not only know how to work but also how to live. Education and training are not as essential requirements as a lively, alert temperament, [464] a flexible body, and an inventive mind.  Nightlife at the Bauhaus claims the same importance as daytime activities.  One must know how to dance.  In Itten’s apt phrase: locker sein [loosen up].

I don’t know about you, but if this was a part of my former higher education institution’s “mission statement,” I probably would have stuck around longer. As many photos of the fantastical Bauhaus costume parties that I could dig up follow.
 
Bauhaus costume party, 1920s
 
Bauhaus costume party, 1920s
 
Bauhaus costume party, 1920s
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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12.31.2015
10:25 am
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