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F E AT U R E

Autophotography exposed to Modernism, whether the work had a

guest lectures by Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg,

connection to New Mexico or not. Although only twenty

and William Carlos Williams. Musician John Cage, dancer

artists are represented in this beautifully designed book,

Merce Cunningham, and artist Robert Rauschenberg

some of them are extensively covered, like Hartley and

collaborated, while the last was a student there, on

Davis; it would be a work by the latter, acquired in Santa

what many call the first “happening.” Poets abounded,

Fe, which would constitute the beginning of the Vilcek’s

husbands and wives fought, and Buckminster Fuller

commitment to American Modernism. The book also

created the first geodesic dome at Black Mountain.

includes a brilliant in-depth essay by William Agee,

Tracing its inception as a very liberal arts college to

“Perspectives on Modern Art in America,” that provides

its closure—due to debt—Black Mountain College:

a thoughtful analysis of the evolution of Modernism and

Experiment in Art (MIT Press, $40) contains essays by

its impact on twentieth-century art. —D.A.

Martin Brody, Robert Creeley, Vincent Katz, and Kevin Power, and ends, fittingly, with three poems about the college’s demise. Here is the last line of Creeley’s ode: “And what the hell else to say but run.” —K.M.D.

Axle Contemporary

Kodak stopped production of Kodachrome—considered to be the best color slide film ever made—in 2009. Since the fifteenth century, artists from painters to sculptors

When making photographs with the film, there was one

to photographers have modeled for themselves in their

exact exposure—all others made the slides too light or

own works of art. Whatever the reason, nearly every

too dark. As the story goes, Kodachrome was the film

artist in every medium has attempted this explanation

of choice of National Geographic photographers, who

of self. Since 2010, Axle Contemporary—a moveable

exposed for the highlights, while shooting at a third of a

art gallery in a retrofitted 1970 step van—has exhibited

stop down in order to achieve greater saturation, giving

drawings, paintings, installations, and photography.

their photographs added presence. Enter Nathan Benn.

This year Axle invited more than eighty photographers working in New Mexico to submit self-portraits for an exhibition. The resulting book Autophotography (Axle Contemporary, $25) is designed with photographs on the right-hand pages and the photographer’s name on the facing page. Many of New Mexico’s best-known photographers are included: William Clift, Gay Block, Willis

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at Black Mountain

F. Lee, Nic Nicosia, Baron Wolman, Zoe Zimmerman, Will

College in its heyday! A Bauhausian effort with a

Wilson, Janet Russek, Herb Lotz, Anne Staveley, Meridel

distinctly American rowdiness, the college was located

Rubenstein, and David Michael Kennedy. The stimulating

in the mountains of North Carolina, east of Asheville.

images showcase the many possibilities of self-portraiture.

During its twenty-three years of existence, from

Some photographers posed in costume, some in the

1933 to 1956, it served as a magnet for an incredible

nude, some against unusual backgrounds, and some in

community of artists. Teachers included Josef Albers,

other imaginative ways. Self-portraiture does come with

Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning. There were

a thorny set of questions. Who will see the photograph? Why does that matter? And what does the photographer hope to get out of the process? In fifty or a hundred years, the visual journey in Autophotography will be seen as a time capsule of this specific time in New Mexico.—G.C. The heart of this splendid book Masterpieces of American

While on the job for National Geographic for twenty years,

Modernism From the Vilcek Collection (Merrell, $85) is

Benn made many personal photographs of America in

embedded in the art done in America in the first four

the 1970s and ’80s. In Kodachrome Memory: American

decades of the twentieth century. There is some later

Pictures 1972-1990 (Powerhouse Books, $50) each and

work represented in the Vilcek Collection but the sum

every photograph tells a story, while showcasing Benn’s

and substance of it was culled from the first waves of

visual intelligence. Benn’s choice of subject matter, paired

modern art done by iconic practitioners such as Stuart

with his exquisite sense of composition, is a treat for the

Davis, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia

eyes. Add an astute forward by Richard Buckley, an essay

O’Keeffe. A fascinating aspect of the art that Jan and

by Paul M. Farber—a scholar of American and Urban

Marcia Vilcek acquired is that they were inspired to begin

Studies—who discusses Benn’s life and photographs

collecting by repeated visits to Santa Fe and becoming

DECEMBER/JANUARY

2013/14

continued on page 42

THE magazine |41


THE magazine Dec 2013 - Jan 2014