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Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928-1939
March 30 - June 2, 2012
One of the most versatile talents of the modern art movement in Germany, the American-born Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) is celebrated as a master of caricature, figurative painting, and a distinctive brand of cubism, but he also created a fascinating body of photographic work that is virtually unknown. Drawn primarily from the collections at Harvard University's Houghton Library, the exhibition Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928-1939, presented at the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum March 30 through June 2, 2012, offers the first opportunity to consider his achievement within the medium. Around 60 of Feininger's photographs, as well as related works on paper and two of his early cameras, are on display. (right: Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Night View of Trees and Streetlamp, Burgkühnauer Allee, Dessau), 1928. Gelatin silver print. Gift of T. Lux Feininger, Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Ger 146.4 (291). © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Houghton Library, Harvard University.)
The photographs are complemented by an installation of around 25 of the artist's drawings and watercolors, plus a major painting from the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. The works on paper are all drawn from the recent bequest of William S. Lieberman to the Busch-Reisinger. The painting, Gross Kromsdorf III (1921), was a gift from Feininger's wife, Julia, in 1964.
The exhibition focuses on the rich and productive period between 1928 (when Feininger first took up the camera) and the late 1930s, when he was exploring an array of avant-garde photographic techniques and making his own prints. Despite his early skepticism about this "mechanical" medium, the painter was inspired by the enthusiasm of his sons Andreas and T. Lux as well as the innovative work of his fellow Bauhaus master and Dessau neighbor László Moholy-Nagy. In the fall of 1928 the 57-year-old Feininger began to conduct his own experiments, discovering in photography a new means of energizing and advancing his artistic program.
Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928-1939 was curated by Laura Muir, Assistant Curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums. Muir also authored the accompanying catalogue. The exhibition and catalogue are based on new research on the collection of the artist's negatives and slides in the Busch-Reisinger Museum's Lyonel Feininger Archive, which has only recently been catalogued and digitized, making it fully accessible for the first time. Muir's research also draws on Feininger's extensive correspondence housed at Houghton Library and her interviews with the artist's recently deceased son T. Lux. The majority of Feininger's photographs, which he shared with only a few close friends and family, remained in his private collection until his death in 1956. In 1987 his son T. Lux donated them to Houghton Library. The exhibition also includes key loans from other US and German lenders, including the Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.
"When he took up the camera at the Bauhaus in 1928, Lyonel Feininger was at the height of his fame as a painter. While he remained committed to that practice, he saw photography as a new means of exploring his interests in reflections, transparency, and the effects of light and shadow," said Muir. "Experimenting with night imagery, negative printing, multiple exposures, and radical enlarging and cropping, he created a strikingly modern yet surprisingly personal body of work that has remained virtually unknown."(left: Lyonel Feininger, Bauhaus, March 26, 1929. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, BR71.21.23. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Digital Imaging and Visual Resources, Harvard Art Museums, © President and Fellows of Harvard College.)
Feininger's first photographs were atmospheric night views of the Bauhaus Building and the nearby neighborhood, including Untitled (Night View of Trees and Streetlamp, Burgkühnauer Allee, Dessau) (1928) and Bauhaus (Mar. 26, 1929). In Halle, while working on a painting commission from the city, Feininger recorded architectural sites in works such as Halle Market with the Church of St. Mary and the Red Tower (1929-30), and experimented with multiple exposures in photographs such as Untitled (Street Scene, Double Exposure, Halle) (1929-30), a hallucinatory image that merges two views of pedestrians and moving vehicles. One of his Halle paintings, Bölbergasse (1931), makes an appearance in Untitled (Unfinished Painting in Studio, Halle) (1931), an image that explores the relationship between the canvas and the space in which it was created. During summers in Deep an der Rega, a small fishing village on the Baltic Coast (in present-day Poland), he returned to his longtime subjects of seascapes and bathers in photographs such as Untitled (Lux Feininger, Deep an der Rega) (1932), a lively snapshot of his son suspended above the water in a backflip. In the months after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus and prior to Feininger's departure from Dessau in March 1933, he made a series of unsettling views of mannequins and reflections in shop windows such as Drunk with Beauty (1932). In 1937 the American-born Feininger permanently settled in New York City after a nearly 50-year absence, and photography served as an important means of reacquainting himself with the city. The off-kilter bird's-eye view he made from his studio Untitled (Second Avenue El from Window of 235 East 22nd Street, New York) (1939) is a dizzying image of an American subject in the style of European avant-garde photography, and mirrors the artist's own precarious and disorienting position between two worlds and the past and present.
The exhibition previously traveled to the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (February 26-May 15, 2011); the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München, Pinakothek der Moderne (June 2-July 17, 2011); and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (October 25, 2011-March 11, 2012). The Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum will be the final venue for this traveling exhibition.
Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928-1939 was organized by the Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in cooperation with the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The exhibition, tour, and catalogue were funded through the generosity of the German Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Dedalus Foundation, Inc., and the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer Jr. Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums. The exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum is made possible also by the Alexander S., Robert L., and Bruce A. Beal Exhibition Fund; Anthony and Celeste Meier Exhibitions Fund; Charlotte and Irving Rabb Exhibition Fund; and Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions.
(above: Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Street Scene, Double Exposure, Halle), 1929-30. Gelatin silver print. Gift of T. Lux Feininger, Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Ger 146.4 (358). © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Houghton Library, Harvard University.)
(above: Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Mannequin in
Beauty Shop Window and Reflection of Lyonel and Julia Feininger, Dessau),
1932-33. Gelatin silver print. Gift of T. Lux Feininger, Houghton Library,
Harvard University, MS Ger 146.4 (487). © 2012 Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Houghton Library, Harvard University.)
A fully illustrated hardcover catalogue with a scholarly essay by exhibition curator Laura Muir accompanies the exhibition. Seventy-six of Feininger's vintage prints are reproduced as full-color plates. The photographs are drawn primarily from Feininger's own collection (now at Harvard University's Houghton Library) and were never shared with the public during his lifetime. The catalogue received the German Photo Book Award in Gold 2012. Published by the Harvard Art Museums and Hatje Cantz Verlag, the catalogue is available in both English and German translations. The English-language catalogue is available in the Harvard Art Museums shop; call 617-495-1440 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for ordering information.
The research resource Lyonel Feininger: Photographs provides access to a searchable database of more than 18,000 negatives and slides housed in the Busch-Reisinger Museum's Lyonel Feininger Archive. The site also includes slideshows, information about Feininger's photographic subjects, and a chronology. Access the tool here.
Below is a list of the public events connected to the exhibition Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928-1939. The three ArtisTalk events feature contemporary photographers whose work recalls different aspects of Lyonel Feininger's photography. All events will be held at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 485 Broadway, Cambridge, MA. More detailed information is available on the Harvard Art Museums' website.
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