I was lucky enough to get to London to see this exhibition at Tate Modern recently. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but went with an open mind hoping to find something that would hook me in. I was struck by how many of the artists in the first few rooms that I had heard of through other studies – Maholy-Nagy, Kandinsky and others. It is a good thing to be familiar with other artists and to see their work up close and it is often not easy to get to London to see the bigger exhibitions. I often think that I don;t know enough about other artists but at least this exhibition showed me that I do at least know some of the important ones.
The majority of the initial rooms were filled with black and white images that drew you to look closer to see what they were. They were also compared to paintings to see where the inspiration could come from, with shapes and patterns being recreated in the photogram. One that struck me was the pairing of the Wassily Kandinsky painting, Swinging, 1925 (https://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-251.php) that was up beside a photogram by Marta Hoepffner Homage to Kandinsky, 1937.
The former is a riot of colour and abstraction in shapes from circles to squares and ovals. The latter is more measured and an interesting compilation of similar shapes. The lack of colour makes you concentrate on the shapes that it presents rather than any colour. It may be that I was drawn to this pairing because I am aware of Kandisnky and like his work exactly for the colour he uses.
With the photograms, I got closer and closer just to be able to see how they produced the shapes on them. The range of abstract objects was varied but some of my favourites were a gramophone record (I think it was Maholy-Nagy), curls of paper and light trails. After a while though, it was almost overwhelming with the sheer number of exhibits and we found ourselves gliding through some rooms that began to seem familiar. The final rooms were a relief to see some colour and the abstraction that can be achieved with more modern techniques in photography.
It’s a short appraisal of this exhibition and it is one that could be visited several times in order to fully appreciate the work that is on display. I really liked it and found it fascinating that it is possible to produce something that requires positioning of objects that are then left to blank out light. It seems so easy and simple but really requires a lot of thought and input to make something as interesting as some of these works. I have tried doing scanning of objects and while you think it will be a case of putting objects on the scanner bed, there is a lot more thought about how to place them. In effect, you have to think upside down to create something meaningful. What was really good about the exhibition was the pairing of painting work alongside photography work to see the influences from other artists and mediums, and to see how they took the ideas of abstraction to push the photography further away from straight more conventional work. It takes thought and working out to produce some of the very precise work on show.
Marta Hoepffner Firebird, 1940. I appreciated the musical references, as it looks like a keyboard. Another one of her images was:
Marta Hoepffner, Homage to de Falla, 1937, references the shape of a guitar.
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/30/shape-of-light-100-years-of-photography-and-abstract-art-review-tate-modern-london Guardian review. He felt the same about the sheer number of works in the rooms that became almost too much, but would be worth visiting again. There is so much detail in them that you need to be able to concentrate but can’t do so for so many of them.