Art Basel 2014 (5) Photography and painting dialogue…


Joel Meyerowitz's photo of Cézanne's studio
Joel Meyerowitz’s photo of Cézanne’s studio

You may have guessed that I am looking for art photography in particular here in Basel? You are right! And I am happy to report that there is so much of it; photography is as accepted as an art form as, say, painting, film, sculpture, prints and multiples. Secondly, there are interesting “dialogues” between photo and painting.

Gerhard Richter – whose exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation outside Basel I shall return to – comes to mind. Many of his paintings appear as photography (until you get closer). But there are also many other examples of how the two art forms speak with each other.

One such example is Joel Meyerowitz and here in Basel he shows a kind of photo narrative at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York. A couple of years ago he visited Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) studio in Aix-en-Provence. He managed to get the permission to take pictures there and was drawn to the grey colours of the studio in which various of Cézanne’s objects and belongings were exhibited.

Next he took pictures of these objects – as if de-coding Cézanne’s paintings and seeing each object in them as a piece of art, a motif for another sort of painting – created with his camera.

Cézanne's studioexhibit  to the left and the single objects in it to the right. By Joel Meyerowitz.
Cézanne’s studio exhibit to the left and the single objects in it to the right. Photographed by Joel Meyerowitz.

I found that interesting, explorative and brilliantly beautiful. Could be done with many other artists – illustrating both time and space in the art and how high quality work may always be seen in its company and add something new.

Sperone Westwater Gallery in New York provided another example, namely a painting – a photo realist pinting by Jan Worst, Subversive Joy 2, 2012.

Jan Worst, Subversive Joy 2, 2012
Jan Worst, Subversive Joy 2, 2012

Now, it isn’t that I don’t understand that there are vital differences between photography and painting too. For instance, the texture of a brush stroke can’t be produced by a photography.

However, there is something intriguing about a painter who seems to be – I don’t know whether this is what Worst actually aims at – attracted to the idea of making his paintings appear as realistic – classical – as possible and anyhow in spite of it minute details still appear more as a photograph than as a classical painting. That’s at least how I perceive it.

Another trend – if one can call it that – is the huge formats of modern art photography. Here is an example by Andreas Gursky.

By Andreas Gursky
By Andreas Gursky

I can’t tell what it is – but a work does change when it is blown up like this. The perfect original will reveal details you cannot possibly see in a much smaller format. However, the extent to which a photo becomes better because it is printed in a huge format can be debated. There is no necessary causal relation between the two, for sure.

What may explain this? I think there are at least three aspects. First, if – like Gurksy – you take photos of huge objects, it may make sense to also let the image communicate the grandness in terms of sheer physical appearance.

Secondly, the art photographer may wish to imitate – or is inspired by – the huge classical canvases. Canvas – or wood for that matter –  as a medium was not restricted to smaller formats. The king and the queen as well as the landscape could be painted life size.

Third, photography as a medium was – like the print some 40 years ago – limited by the medium being limited. It was technically impossible to transfer a photographic original to a huge format without losing a lot. However, digital techniques and various new printing methods and printers can now transfer images to almost any medium and in any size. So, the fact that it is possible to blow up photo formats without losing quality challenges, naturally, the experimenting soul.

At Art Basel 2014 you would see a lot of huge photo formats, foremost by Candida Höfer, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff. Incidentally, Gursky and these three were all students of Bernd and Hilla Becher at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf but their works I have not seen in larger-than-normal formats here or anywhere else.

The Howard Greenberg Gallery – mentioned above – is specialised in photography.

The stand of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
The stand of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

This year too it exhibited one of my absolute favourites – Saul Leiter. See the wonderful movie with Leiter shot shortly before he died.

Saul Leiter was, above all, a photographer. But he also did drawings and paintings. That can be seen in every and each of his photographic pieces. So here is yet another example of a photo-painting dialogue…

Saul Leiter - masterpiece in a rather small format.
Saul Leiter – masterpiece in a rather small format.

Art Basel is too big to do any justice. In each category, in each article here, I could have written much much more. C’est la vie d’Art Basel. I hope I have illustrated a little of the ongoing dialogue between painting and photography in this post.

And was I inspired? You bet!







Would love to read your views, ideas or suggestions here

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