Thursday, July 1, 2010
Rediscovering Francesca Woodman
Date: 18 Dec 2006 | | Views: 3992
Art imitates life. Or perhaps it's the other way around.
This dual notion haunts the often enigmatic, sometimes unsettling photography of Francesca Woodman, who jumped to her death in 1981 at age 22.
While the Colorado native's short yet surprisingly prolific output would gain considerable attention, especially in Europe, the cultish romanticism that grew up around her suicide long clouded serious discussions of her work.
But now, with the clarifying distance of a quarter- century, perceptions are changing. Curators and critics are looking anew at the more than 800 images Woodman created in a 10-year period from junior high school to young adulthood.
She is being rediscovered and reconsidered, a process likely to accelerate with the publication of the most comprehensive book yet on her, including edited journals and 250 photographs ("Francesca Woodman," Phaidon Press, 256 pages, $75).
"I think her work is growing in importance historically," said Douglas Fogle, curator of contemporary art at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
"People are looking back at it now as something that has been influential more recently with younger artists."
Although Woodman's work has been featured in major solo shows, including a large one organized in 1998 by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain in Paris, she has yet to have a major touring retrospective in the United States. But Fogle believes such an exhibition is only a matter of time.
"I think you're right now at the moment where there is enough interest, where there are curators sniffing around," he said.
Career in the cards
It was all but pre-ordained that Woodman would become an artist. Her parents, Betty and George Woodman, are nationally known artists; her father taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder while she grew up. Their home served as the social center of the city's art scene, with prominent and not-so-prominent artists frequently passing through.
In the summer of 1972, before Woodman left for boarding school in Andover, Mass., her father gave her a camera. She took an immediate liking to it, sitting in on a university photography class to learn the basics.
An image from that nascent period, "Self-Portrait at Thirteen" (1972), is reproduced in the book. Already, many of the defining qualities of her work are present: the use of herself as the subject, explorations of space and perspective, the blurry, atmospheric effects.
"It was all about making art," her father said. "It wasn't about documenting birthday parties or camping expeditions. I don't think she ever made a snapshot.
She quickly became sufficiently sophisticated to have nothing but contempt for the snapshot."
After graduating from the well-regarded Rhode Island School of Design in 1978, she spent a year in Italy, where her parents often had taken her during summers and their study trips. In 1965-66, she even attended second grade there.
Chris Townsend, a senior lecturer at the University of London who authored the Woodward monograph, believes she did her best work during that time, working in an old factory building in Rome.
Far from the inspired naif, as she sometimes has been portrayed, he believes she drew on a range of influences including but not limited to surrealism, especially the work of Man Ray and Duane Michals, and fashion photography by Deborah Turbeville and others.
"Suddenly, she is making a body of photographs that are all her own," Townsend said. "They take a lot of the reference points and they subvert them. They alter them. They stop being about aesthetics, and they're about the properties of photography."
Woodman probed the nature of photography and its uneasy relationship with reality. She relentlessly explored what Townsend calls the "spatial and temporal mismatches" between image and object.
She wanted to evoke the elusive, transient realm between what is and isn't, constantly depicting herself as a kind of specter, disappearing into or emerging from floors and walls, depending on the viewer's
1977-78: from "eel" series, Rome (Photograph courtesy George and Betty Woodman) perception.
"She was starting to play all these interesting games within the photograph, examining formal, conceptual problems of photography as a medium," Townsend said. "And very few photographers of the 1970s and even very few photographers outside of conceptualism do that."
Although Woodman sometimes employed models, she mainly depicted herself, usually interacting in some staged way with the environment around her - wrapping her nude body in wallpaper in the 1977 "Space" series or thrusting herself into nature in images at the MacDowell Colony in 1980.
"Francesca was ashamed that she took so many pictures of herself and irritated by the simplistic self-portrait label attached to her work," Betsy Berne, a close friend, wrote in an essay in the book. "She tried using models over and over - but the reality was she was her own best model because she alone knew what she was after."
In much of her work, Woodman treats the body as a kind of fetish, camouflaging and confusing identity. A few images have an air of innocence, while others, such as a 1979- 80 rear view of an undulating female torso, are sexually charged.
Still others take on an almost violent edge. In "Horizontale" (1976), she binds her legs with spiraling tape. "Portrait of a Reputation" is an undated book of five images in which her darkened hand leaves ugly stains on her body with each touch.
Woodman was living in an East Village loft in New York City and had barely begun her professional career when she took her life. Apparently, it did not come as a total surprise; Berne writes that on the photographer's "darkest days," she would mention suicide.
Even though, as Berne puts it, Woodman was "beset by the same contradictions and conflicts" visible in her work, Townsend and the photographer's parents caution against interpreting the photographs through the lens of the suicide.
She clearly had dark moments, but her parents describe her as a charming, witty and sociable person, a description backed up by Berne's lively and touching account of the young artists' time together.
"On the other hand," Betty Woodman said, "she did commit suicide. Things were not rosy and wonderful for Francesca. That was her choice. It is there. It's hard for us. I know I just tend not to make this be what the work is about."
Beset by trends
When Woodman died, changing trends were already overshadowing her. A new breed of post-modern artists driven by mass culture, including Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine, were uprooting photography and exploiting it for very different purposes.
While Woodman had a foot in this conceptualist camp, she was also very much attached to traditional photography, using techniques little different from the 19th century to fastidiously create and print her images.
As often happens in the natural cycle of the art world, the photographer's work has found new resonance among today's artists, who are looking back at the 1960s and ྂs with fresh eyes and combining the past and present in inventive ways.
With the help of the respected dealer Marian Goodman, who began representing the photographer's estate in 1998, Woodman's photographs are increasingly making their way to the market. And the book, with more than 100 photographs never before published, should only increase her visibility.
What will Woodman's ultimate place in photographic history be? Only time can tell. What cannot be denied is the distinctiveness and innate power of her provocative, sometimes troubling images.
"There's no manipulation of the art market or how they are promoted," said Betty Woodman. "People simply respond to them. So I guess there's some kind of legacy, because isn't that what art's all about?"
By Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post
Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Karen Vitt, NEAT editor in chief
“Own the sea and the sun and the sand and all the men in site!” That fabulous copy, lifted straight from a 1954 Jantzen ad in Look magazine, sums up exactly why we love Jantzen and all it’s vintage, vampy glory. Especially here in Portland, where the legendary local label was launched in 1910.
While no longer headquartered in PDX, we can still celebrate 100 Years of Timeless Glamour in the current Jantzen anniversary exhibit on display now through Friday, April 30 at The Art Institute of Portland Gallery. To celebrate a century of style, Jantzen has brought in its iconic 21-foot fiberglass Diving Girl to preside over the gallery all month. Visitors can browse glamorous vintage swimming suits and bathing caps from every era, and giggle over old advertisements featuring celebrities and fashion statements as they change through the decades.
“The Jantzen Archive is unique. There is no other archive like it,” said Jantzen archivist Carol Alhadeff. (That’s right, folks, Jantzen is so rich with history they have an offical archivist!) “It represents the history of swimwear as well as the history of visionary advertising. There is a century of textile innovation in our vintage garments to inspire our collections.”
As the brand enters its second century, the exhibit makes for fun fashion viewing and a neat Portland history lesson at once – not to mention a thorough look at the evolution of swimwear and fashion marketing.
You’ll learn how Jantzen was born out of downtown Portland as Portland Knitting Company in 1910, turning out wool suits (itch) for a rowing team on a few hand-knitting machines above a tiny retail store. Then follow along as they grow into Jantzen Knitting Mills in 1918, as the Diving Girl becomes an international icon in the ’20s, as movie stars begin wearing Jantzen in the ’30s, as the company survives World War II, thrives in the ’60s surf scene, makes adventurous ’80s statement suits, and finally stages a return to its current classic American glamour.
Win a Jantzen Heritage Collection Swimming Suit! Jantzen’s 2010 Heritage Collection swimming suits also are featured in the exhibit, so visitors can get a total picture of how far Jantzen has come and the direction they’re heading, plus it’s a chance to browse some gorgeous retro and modern styles they can buy for themselves today. One lucky Neat Sheet reader will win this ’50s inspired Jantzen Heritage ruffled one-piece swimming suit (right, retail value $120). To enter, just send an e-mail with the subject line “JANTZEN HERITAGE” to email@example.com or leave a comment on this post. We’ll pick a lucky random winner on Monday, May 10.
If you’re too excited to wait, you can also shop for Jantzen suits at neat local swimwear boutique Popina Swimwear, (4831 N.E. 42nd Ave.; 503-282-5159) where they have several styles of the vintage-inspired Jantzen Vamp Swimming Suits in stock. And be sure to visit Macy’s in downtown Portland (621 S.W. Fifth Ave.; 503-223-0512), where you’ll find all the latest Jantzen suits and can also view the entire Jantzen 2010 Heritage Collection on display in Macy’s front windows.
Happy birthday, Jantzen. See you at the beach.
Jantzen, 100 Years of Timeless Glamour
Through Friday, April 30
The Art Institute of Portland Gallery
1122 N.W. Davis St.; 503-228-6528
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