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100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art - at Tate Modern

  • Otto Steinert - Luminogram II, 1952
  • László Moholy-Nagy - Photogram, c.1925
  • Jackson Pollock - Number 23, 1948
  • Barbara Kasten - Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74:13, 1974
  • László Moholy-Nagy - K VII, 1922
  • James Welling - ZEPES, 1986
May 1, 2018
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

While the birth of abstract art and the invention of photography were both defining moments in modern visual culture, these two stories are often told separately.

In a major upcoming exhibition, Tate Modern will reveal how stories of photography and abstract art are intertwined. Titled Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, it will explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction.

Starting from the early experiments of the beginning of the 20th century to recent digital innovations, the show will examine the history of abstract photography side-by-side with seminal paintings and sculptures. The first show of this scale to explore this subject, it will feature over 300 works by more than 100 artists.

Aleksandr Rodchenko - Radio Station Tower, 1929, El Lissitzky - Proun in Material (Proun 83), 1924
Left: Aleksandr Rodchenko – Radio Station Tower, 1929. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 224 x 142 mm. Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham / Right: El Lissitzky – Proun in Material (Proun 83), 1924. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 140 x 102 mm. Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham

Juxtaposing Photography and Abstract Art

Placing moments of radical innovation in photography within the wider context of abstract art, the exhibition will explore the relationship between the media through a juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers. Cubist works by George Braque will be shown next to works by Pierre Dubreuil, while the Abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock will stand beside Otto Steinert‘s “luminograms”.

The impact of Surrealism on the depiction of the human body will be demonstrated through André Kertesz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, in comparison with a major painting by Joan Miró.

The exhibition will also include artists whose practice spans both media, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.

Wyndham Lewis - Workshop, c.1914-5, Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé - Jazzmen, 1961
Left: Wyndham Lewis – Workshop, c.1914-5. Oil paint on canvas, 765 x 610 mm, Tate: purchased 1974 © Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity) / Right: Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé – Jazzmen, 1961. Printed papers on canvas, 2170 x 1770 mm. Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000 © Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé

Photography and Major Art Movements

Acknowledging its impact, Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art will also show installation photographs of MoMA’s pioneering show The Sense of Abstraction from 1960. The display will feature works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since this seminal show.

Examining the connection between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting, the exhibition will present rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from 1960, with paintings by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neussis and Gottfried Jaeger. It will also include rooms dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s, as well as a series of new works by contemporary artists such as Tony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota that reflect the connections between the two media today.

Guy Bourdin - Untitled, 1952, Imogen Cunningham - Triangles, 1928, printed 1947-60
Left: Guy Bourdin – Untitled, 1952; Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 277 x 164 mm. Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015 © The Guy Bourdin Estate / Right: Imogen Cunningham – Triangles, 1928, printed 1947-60; Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 119 x 93 mm; Pierre Brahm © Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved

Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern

Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art will be on view at Tate Modern in London from May 2nd until October 14th, 2018.

The exhibition is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Featured images: Otto Steinert – Luminogram II, 1952. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 302 x 401 mm. Jack Kirkland Collection Nottingham © Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen; László Moholy-Nagy – Photogram, c.1925. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 181 x 238 mm. Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham; Jackson Pollock – Number 23, 1948. Enamel on gesso on paper, 575 x 784 mm. Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960 © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017; Barbara Kasten – Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74:13, 1974. Photograph, salted paper print, 558 x 762 mm. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Bortolami Gallery, New York © Barbara Kasten; László Moholy-Nagy – K VII, 1922. Oil paint and graphite on canvas, 1153 x 1359 mm. Tate: Purchased 1961; James Welling – ZEPES, 1986. Photograph, C-print on paper, 254 x 203 mm. Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham © James Welling. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong and Maureen Paley, London. All images courtesy of Tate Modern.