Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Grolier Club

Art Review | Silver Screen Silver Prints | Hollywood Glamour Portraits from the Robert Dance Collection | Curated by Ann H. Hoy | Grolier Club, NYC

… star struck …

Theda Bara as Cleopatra, by Albert Witzel, 1917, gelatin silver print, 10 x 8". Photo: Grolier Club

Theda Bara as Cleopatra, by Albert Witzel, 1917, gelatin silver print, 10 x 8″. Photo: Grolier Club

This exhibition brings together 90 publicity photographs, made by the big studios, of major Hollywood stars:  the earliest is of Theda Bara as Cleopatra of 1917, and the latest of Elizabeth Taylor — not as Cleopatra (that would have been fun) — but as Barbara in Ash Wednesday (a woman driven to plastic surgery to keep hold of her husband), dated 1974.

These are ultra large format gelatin silver prints and required great effort and expense to produce but evidently the studios thought they were worth it — I learned at an introductory Discussion that at one point MGM employed 500 people just to turn out the prints, and hundred of thousands of prints were made at “astounding” cost. These went to magazines, newspapers and elsewhere and, reduced in size and autographed before printing were sent to fans who wrote in requesting them.

But why are most of the photos of female stars?  That excellent question was asked by someone in the audience during that discussion presented by Ann H. Hoy, Robert Dance and film director Paul Morrissey, and the response was that “day-long photo sessions” lie behind these photos and the

Ramon Novarro and May McAvoy, for Ben Hur attributed to Warren Lynch, 1925, geltin silver print, 13 x 10". Photo: Grolier Club

Ramon Novarro and May McAvoy, for Ben Hur attributed to Warren Lynch, 1925, geltin silver print, 13 x 10″. Photo: Grolier Club

male stars didn’t have the patience or interest in posing to do them.  Yet the star power and popularity of the male stars — without such a stream of publicity photos — equaled that of the female stars, which leaves open some questions well worth pursuing:  just what was the –evidently great — impact of the studio publicity photos?  and on whom?  And why were they so valuable to the studios?   Any ideas?

A valuable aspect of the exhibition is that while highlighting movie stars, it also brings out the specific talents of the photographers whose names, perhaps with the exception of Edward Steichen, even film buffs aren’t likely to know.  The photographers didn’t sign the photos but, through their work played a part in creating that sense of linked personality and image — that persona that helped to emblazon the stars in the popular imagination.  Thus there are photographs Ruth Harriet Louise made of Greta

Norma Shearer by George Hurrell, 1930, gelatin silver print, 13 x 10". Photo: Grolier Club

Norma Shearer by George Hurrell, 1930, gelatin silver print, 13 x 10″. Photo: Grolier Club

Garbo, Joan Crawford with Robert Montgomery, and others grouped so as to give a sense of the photographer’s presence and individuality.  Photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull photographed Lillian Gish in 1917, Greta Garbo in 1931 and Hedy Lamarr around 1942.  You can read in the informative catalog essay how photographer George Hurrell enabled Norma Shearer to become a star.

The photographs are beautifully printed, often with the fine resolution and subtle chiaroscuro large format makes possible.  A few show the effects of time and the instability of the gelatin silver process, while remaining effective.

I find, though, that for all the skill, there’s a thinness in the glamour posturing and patent manufacture of personality.  It’s a playing with surface — lots of chiaroscuro but not much depth.  And how much more vital and communicative it is to see these actors in dramatic contexts, hard at work in their films, creating for us not mere image but characterizations!

But publicity photos are significant and omnipresent in our culture and, thanks to Robert Dance making them available, Silver Screen Silver Prints lets you see original prints of some rare images that strike chords of resonant cultural memories. The illustrated catalog is by the Curator Ann H. Hoy, Art Historian and author of The Book of Photography, published by National Geographic in 2005.  Silver Screen Silver Prints, free and open to the public, will be on view at the Grolier Club through November 11.

Back to a Remembered Time by Paul Johnson, photo by Robert Lorenzson

Press Release | Beyond the Text: Artists’ Books from the Collection of Robert J. Ruben | Catalog by Yvonne Korshak and Robert J. Ruben | Grolier Club

Beyond the Text: Artists’ Books from the Collection of Robert J. Ruben, originally shown at The Grolier Club in New York City March 25 through May 28, 2010, is now opening March 3, 2011 at the Bailey/Howe Library of the University of Vermont, http://library.uvm.edu/news/?cat=3

Beyond the Text:  Artists’ Books from the Collection of Robert J. Ruben by Yvonne Korshak and Robert J. Ruben, 2010, 156 pages, 74 color illustrations, ISBN 978-1-60583-026-1

… Beyond the Text …

Artists’ books take a leap beyond the kind of text and illustrations normally associated with the book to carry the viewer to new vistas of emotion and intellect.  Some artists’ books arrive on our visual doorstep bearing humor while others — all in mixed degrees — convey intellectual challenge, or emotions such as awe or joy.  Some are embassies from the dark side of human experience.

The Grolier Club’s exhibition, Beyond the Text:  Artists’ Books from the Collection of Robert J. Ruben, includes over 60 examples of accordion books, codices, scrolls, box books, pop-ups and tunnel books, in every variety of mixed media.  Some are by artists of international renown, others by new artists forging their creative paths.  Some of the books have previously known texts by writers such as Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, and others have new texts or no texts at all, and the subject matter ranges from political, argumentative, ironic, lyrical to tragic.

For example, the giant pop-up Back to a Remembered Time by Paul Johnson shows a complex house-like form made up of many windows, entrances, and restive spaces, all with a dazzling range of colors.  Opening its kaleidoscopic wings, the viewer opens to a sense of joy.

Back to a Remembered Time by Paul Johnson, photo by Robert Lorenzson

Back to a Remembered Time by Paul Johnson, photo by Robert Lorenzson

Incantations is the first book created completely by Mayan people in nearly five hundred years, since the Mayan libraries were burned by the bishop of Yucatan.  Over 150 Mayans from all walks of life collaborated as writers, illustrators and paper makers working with the Taller Lenateros –Woodland Workshop.  The illustrations are accompanied by poetry written in the Mayan languageTzotzil, with English translations.  The Mayan women who produced the poems say they were written by the Earth, the Moon or the Sun, and come to them from books of their ancestors shown to them in dreams.

Incantations, collaborative work of the Taller Lenateros, photo by Robert Lorenzson

Incantations, collaborative work of the Taller Lenateros, photo by Robert Lorenzson

In another mode, Julie Chen’s 60″ wide masterpiece Panorama heightens awareness of the fragility of our earth’s capacity to support life in the face of climate change.  Past a panorama of rocks, and of a town, the book opens with a double-page spread, illustrated below, of a stunningly constructed perspective of the earth’s surrounding spheres:  troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere (400+ miles out).

 Panorama by Julie Chen, photo by Robert Lorenzson

Panorama by Julie Chen, photo by Robert Lorenzson

Robert J. Ruben, the collector and Yvonne Korshak, art historian and writer on cultural events, have collaborated on this project, co-curating the exhibition and writing the catalog that accompanies it.  This catalog is the first book in print to consider artists’ books not only descriptively but in terms of their meanings and iconography.

The exhibition, Beyond the Text, will be held at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, NY, NY, from March 25th through May 28th, 2010, Monday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm, free of charge and open to all..

For what it’s like to visit the exhibition, see the vivid commentary at http://kyleolmon.com/blog/2010/03/25/beyond-the-text/

Art Review | Vivat Rex! | Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII | Grolier Club

… Love and History …

Henry VIII made one of the most momentous breaks in Western history:  he severed England from the Catholic Church, and established the Church of England independent from Rome.  Why?  Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and the Pope wouldn’t let him divorce his current wife.  So it’s often summed up — a kind of mnemonic.  How often people look to great historical turning points and find a love affair at the crux!  The very birth of democracy in Greece, for instance, with a love story as its origin myth — the Tyrannicides.  The exhibition Vivat Rex! reminds us:  to rescue history from fantasy, look to primary documents.  And they are here — astonishing texts and objects of the period that enable the viewer to engage with the true story.  That’s even more exciting than a love affair — well, maybe as exciting …

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