woensdag 27 augustus 2014

From the Isle of Man to the Butlin's Holiday Camps Photobooks from those damp little islands Photography

A small selection of Photobooks from those damp little islands

There is this group of islands off the coast of northern Europe – roughly divided into England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – where sometimes it is extremely beautiful and sometimes it is merely compelling in it’s bland ordinariness. At other times these islands are bleak and gritty and yet still other times they are mysterious and ancient. Here is a small sample of photobooks from those damp little islands:
Here comes everybody, Chris Killip’s Irish photographs  – Chris Killip
Thames & Hudson, 2009. 96 pp., 121 illustrations, 78 in color, 13x9½". 
Chris Killip is one of the most influential photographers, curators, and teachers to come out of the United Kingdom. His images of the northeast of England in the late 1970s and 1980s powerfully evoke the human disaster of de-industrialization and Thatcherism. They formed part of a body of work by a generation of photographers including Paul Graham and Martin Parr that firmly established documentary photography within an artistic context. 

'Here Comes Everybody' is a phrase that echoes repeatedly in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and as such it aptly captures the intense poetry of this new collection of photographs taken over repeated trips to Ireland between 1993 and 2005. On each visit Killip attended the annual pilgrimages at Croagh Patrick and Maamen in the West of Ireland, places of wild beauty and ancient spirituality. His poignant photographs of the pilgrims' trek are complemented by landscapes, townscapes, and details photographed in the West of Ireland and beyond: seaside bathing spots, whitewashing cottages, street scenes, drystone walls, and shrines to the Virgin. These images include the first color photographs Killip has ever published. 

Chris Killip’s images of Ireland from 1993 to 2005 which document the annual pilgrimages at Croagh Patrick and Maamean in the west of Ireland, as well as other places of ancient spirituality. See for the album ...
London/Wales – Robert Frank 
Photographs by Robert Frank. Text by Philip Brookman. 
Scalo, Zurich, 2002. 208 pp., 90 tritone illustration, 9x11". 

London/Wales, photographs Frank made during a lengthy visit to the United Kingdom in 1951. The show of ninety photographs from which this book is derived was organized by Philip Brookman of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. This trip predates Frank's searing work in The Americans by several years; his aptitude and discerning eye are in full effect, however, even at this early stage. The photography community's fixation upon the The Americans is broken by this addition, representing a much-needed step towards a fuller understanding of this complex artist. 

Robert Franks trip to London in the early 1950’s took him on a tangential journey to the west to visit with the working class miners of Wales.

Who are the English? And what images spring to mind when you think of the English and England? Ask a tourist and they would probably say Big Ben, English 'bobbies', the London Eye or maybe even the Queen. Ask a Scot, Welshmen or Irishman and you may get a different answer. However, ask an Englishman (or woman) and you will probably get more intimate (and printable) answers ...mowing the lawn, going down the pub or maybe braving the beach on a frigid summer's day. Ask Chris Steele-Perkins and he'll have a multitude of answers and what's more, as an internationally acclaimed and award-winning "Magnum" photographer of 40 years standing he has the images to share. In his new book, Chris presents a sweeping, unique record of what he thinks makes England truly English. From Sunday cricket matches to snoozes in a deckchair; intimate family portraits to carefree children at play; circus shows with performing bears to the wilder performers of a street carnival; and from Saturday night dancing to race riots. Each picture tells a story of time and place and many of the images collected will strike a chord or a memory in the viewer. These natural and authentic photographs are a personal selection of the best and most important of Chris's images that he has taken over 40 years of photographing in England. Some are drawn from books he has made on English themes, others from stories he has worked on, others from pictures of family and friends, from random events encountered. This book is an honest testament to this odd but magnificent country that is England, the England of the people.

A 40 year accumulation of images on the theme of England from the canonical magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins.
In Flagrante – Chris Killip
Killip, Chris
Publisher Errata Editions
ISBN 9781935004394

Chris Killip’s 'In Flagrante' is often cited as the most important photographic book on England in the 1980s. Published in 1988, this work portrays the steady decline of communities in Northern England – former manufacturing powerhouses that were gradually compromised by the policies of Margaret Thatcher and her predecessors from the mid-1970s onward. Killip’s black-and-white photographs provide an unflinching look at these disenfranchised northern towns and the poverty visited upon them by deindustrialization. Books on Books No. 4 reproduces Killip’s work alongside John Berger and Sylvia Grant’s original essay plus a specially commissioned essay, "Dispatches from a War Zone," by photo historian Gerry Badger.

108 p, ills colour & bw, 18 x 24 cm, hb, English
The original of this book is rather expensive and hard to come by – thank god for Eratta Editions. This is the landscape and the people of Thatcher’s ugly and vile era.

2/2 - Chris Killip: What Happened Great Britain 1970-1990 from LE BAL on Vimeo.

Josef Koudelka: Reconnaissance Wales
Ffotogallery, Cardif, 1999. Unpaged, 16 duotone illustrations, 11¼x9¼". 

With very limited availability, this rare Koudelka monograph is destined to become very collectable. In Reconnaissance, the longtime Magnum photographer continues his panoramic camera work, creating a dark, lyrical, and compelling view of the Welsh countryside. Unique and beautifully printed, the book is designed as an accordion-fold with spectacular double-page images and an illustrated index.

Koudelka’s panoramic work depicting the dark, lyrical, and compelling Welsh landscape. Filled with beautiful imagery. I wish the cover was more interesting. . ., see for the album ...
Isle of Man: A Book About the Manx – Christopher Killip 
London: Arts Council of Great Britain. First edition Wide paperbound quarto. Preface by John Berger. A photographic monograph on the people and localities of the Manx. A gorgeous fine copy in bound photo-illustrated wrappers. With 69 pp of text and photos followed by a section of reference information. Early and beautiful work by Killip. 
Isle of Man native Chris Killip explores the places and peoples of this harsh and ancient homeland. See for the album ...
Bruce Davidson: England/Scotland 1960 – Bruce Davidson 
Photographs by Bruce Davidson. Essay by Mark Booth-Haworth. 
Steidl, Gottingen, 2006. 192 pp., 120 tritone illustrations, 9½x10½". 

In 1960, after spending an intense year photographing a notorious Brooklyn street gang called The Jokers, Bruce Davidson decided that he needed to get away from the tension, depression, and potential violence connected to that work. He took on a commission to photograph Marilyn Monroe during the making of John Houston’s film The Misfits in the Nevada desert, and then traveled to London on a commission for The Queen magazine. Edited by Jocelyn Stevens, The Queen was a magazine devoted to British lifestyle and Davidson was charged, with no specific agenda, to spend a couple of months touring England and Scotland to build a photographic portrait of the two countries.

England/Scotland 1960 offers a visionary insight into the very heart of English and Scottish cultures. Reflecting a postwar era in which the revolutions of the 1960s had hardly yet filtered into the mainstream, Davidson’s photographs reveal countries driven by difference-the extremes of city and country life, of the landed gentry and the common people-and lucidly portrays the mood of these times in personal and provocative imagery that is as fresh today as it was in that time. Published in this book for the first time in its entirety, this is one of undiscovered gems of late 20th-century documentary photography. 

Bruce Davidson spent two month in 1960 recording the peoples and places of England and Scotland. This is the book of that experience which was finally released in 2006.

British Photography from the Thatcher years – Susan Kismaric
Catalogue from an exhibition that opened at MOMA, New York, on Valentine’s Day 1990 displaying documentary images of Britain under the regime of the ‘milk snatcher’. See for the album ...

The English at Home – Bill Brandt 
The English at Home by Bill Brandt
First Edition, First Printing, 1936
This is a scarce first edition, first printing of the classic photobook, “The English at Home” published by B.T.Batsford, Ltd., London in 1936. “The English at Home” was Brandt's first published collection of photographs and provides a unique insight into the extremes of British society between the wars. In the mid-1930s such photo-journalism was very rare and the unsettling social questions raised by Brandt's photographs rarely discussed. Although not initially well-received and quickly remaindered, “The English at Home” is now seen as a rare example of artistic photojournalism. Brandt favored pre-arranged to candid pictures, giving his work a cinematic and often surreal quality. Commenting in “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century”, David Levi Strauss wrote, “'The English At Home' may look like a fairly conventional self-congratulatory celebration of 'the English'...[but] as the book proceeds, the strictly divided class structure of England is increasingly reflected in the layout, with an image of a desolate street...juxtaposed with children in fine clothes looking bored...and a group of upper-class Brits in top hats and tails at the races contrasted with a mother and her three children in a dirty, cramped room in a village of East Durham in Northern England.” Brandt became a regular contributor to Picture Post and Harper's Bazaar and was famously commissioned by the Ministry of Information to photograph life in the London Underground bomb shelters during the Blitz. His uncompromising style and eye for detail made Brandt one of Britain's most influential and internationally admired photographers of the 20th century his work influencing Robert Frank among others.
Containing 63 gravure plates and measuring approximately 9” x 7.5”, the book is bound in photographically illustrated laminated boards and has photographic endpapers, each being a double page image. The book is in Near Fine condition with sunning to the spine and a rub to the bottom left corner of the upper board without the glassine dust jacket as issued.  Overall, this is an excellent copy of a notoriously fragile and highly sought after ground breaking photobook rarely found in this condition.
Cited in all three reference books on photobooks: “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century” by Andrew Roth and “The Photobook: A History”, by Parr and Badger, and “The Open Book” by Andrew Roth.
Classic depiction of the sublime and quiet horrors of the English class system.
The Battle of Waterloo Road – Robert Capa 
An extensive photographic essay of London during the blitz described by the celebrity photojournalist and champagne socialist Robert Capa.

Megaliths – Paul Caponigro 
Ancient structures from 5000 years ago are to be found all over these mysterious islands (and they even extend over the English channel to those folks in Brittany).
The Donegal Pictures – Rachel Giese [with poems by Ciaran Carson]
A book of images of the everyday lives of villagers from an Ireland of long ago. These photographs are bathed in a sensual light.
Dublin, A portrait – Evelyn Hofer
This is remarkable documentary work of a Dublin past. I especially love the beautiful image of the four sporting fellah’s from Phoenix Park on a Sunday. See for the album ...
Tair a’ mhurain: Outer Hebrides – Paul Strand
Paul Strand, Basil Davidson: Tir A'Mhurain. Outer Hebrides. Photographs by Paul Strand. Texts by Basil Davidson and Catherine Duncan. VEB Verlag der Kunst, Dresden, 1962. Quarto. First German edition (with text in English)*. Clothbound in photo-illustrated dust jacket. 105 gravure reproductions. 
EDITION NOTE: A German language edition of Tir A'Mhurain from the same publisher was issued; this English language edition, published in Germany by the same house is, thus, likely part of a very small print run. 

"The decision as to when to photograph, the actual click of the shutter, is purely controlled from the outside, by the flow of life, but it also comes from the mind and the heart of the artist. The photograph is his vision of the world and expresses, however subtly, his values and conviction."--Paul Strand.
For three months in 1954 Strand and his wife Hazel traversed the island of South Uist, off the west coast of Scotland. A Paul Strand classic, beautifully printed in gravure! 

Paul strand’s glorious images of the island of South Uist where he spent three months in 1954. See for the album ...

A1: The Great North Road – Paul Graham
Paul Graham describes in colour the A1 Road which links London to Edinburgh and illuminates all the places in between.

Paul Grahamn - A1: The Great North Road from Photobook Club on Vimeo.

The British Landscape – John Davies
John Davies surveys the landscape of Britain with great solemnity and brings the ordinary to life in a large and dramatic way.

Hackney Wick – Stephen Gil
Photographs by Stephen Gill. 
Nobody., London., 2005. Unpaged, 8¾x8¾". 

"Hackney Wick sits in East London between the Grand Union Canal, the river Lea and the Eastway A106. I first came across the area in January 2003 when I was photographing the back of billboards. Although I had lived in London for nine years and thought I knew east London well, Hackney Wick threw me; it completely changed my mental map of this part of London." Stephen Gill 

Equipped with a 50p camera Stephen Gil diligently documents and describes a vast east London flea market which closed in 2003. See for the album ...
LDN – Antony Cairns 

These streets and buildings strip-lit spotlit smudged and smeared and looking up to space and shadow and night-time silence and some concrete corner we remember and forget and remember again are fragments of memory touching other memories of cold city corridors where people live but none are seen in the hours of subway haunting and drifting over high rise and low rise.
Now the lens is a power drill in the hands of a chimera. The target missed reveals the ante-chamber behind the subject which is a mysterious place we can all enter. Walk through central London late at night and you will sense this space. Don’t linger but be aware that horror will emerge from an unexpected source.

LDN3, the third of Antony Cairns’s LDN books, expands upon his vision of a nocturnal concrete London lit by glaring lights from windows of unseen rooms in looming buildings. A sense of movement pervades, a sense of the reader as passer-by in a strange landscape, drawn away through the dark labyrinth of night without discovering the secrets concealed in those rooms, on to the next bleary edifice and on again, only to realise at last that what we see is home.

Dark abstract images of a contemporary subterranean London printed on tracing paper.http://www.antony-cairns.co.uk/
Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight: The John Hinde Butlin’s Photographs – John Hinde.

Butlin’s Holiday Camps are a unique British institution conceived by Billy Butlin for post-war Britain. He dreamt of a holiday centre for the great mass of working-class families, where they could have a good time irrespective of the unreliable British weather.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the photographer, innovator and entrepreneur John Hinde, a key figure in the development of the colour photograph as a postcard, set about recording the ‘social revolution’ that was Butlin’s. Hinde’s postcards not only provide a valuable documentation of the Butlin’s phenomenon, but an account of the rise of leisure society in post war Britain. Set apart from the more romantic, black and white documentary images of Britain at that time, these images have been overlooked by the history of photography. This exhibition provides an opportunity to re-assess their importance.
Through the bold use of colour throughout the frame, cutting edge printing techniques and his use of props and narrative content, the Hinde postcards quickly established a competitive advantage over rival manufacturers. In the 1960s Hinde’s success attracted the attention of Billy Butlin who commissioned him to develop a range of colour postcards of his holiday camps. By 1965 Hinde had given up doing the day-to-day photography himself and was using the young German photographers, Elmar Ludwig and Edmund Nägele, later joined by the British photographer David Noble.
Following an exhibition from the archive of Hinde’s work in 1993 at The Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, this is the premier touring exhibition dedicated to the Butlin’s photographs.
Photographs by Elmar Ludwig, Edmund Nägele and David Noble
Exhibition curated by Martin Parr
Produced by Chris Boot
In association with Les Rencontres d’Arles
Images filled with ‘fun’ from the leisure industry ‘holiday camps’ of mainstream Britain recorded in their heyday during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The Cost of Living – Martin Parr
This is a colourful look at the intricacies and complexities of British social life from the legendary documenter of the intricacies and complexities of British social life Martin Parr. See for the album ...

Martin Parr, Election Party on board the SS Great Britain, 1988
Martin Parr, Election party aboard the SS Great Britain from The Cost of Living, 1986-9
The Britain of the 1980s wasn’t all about strikes and unemployment of course. There was another side to the story: just as there were the have-nots, so there were the haves. For some, Thatcher’s Britain was a comfortable place. The rich were, after all, getting richer. And with that, for those who belonged, came the social whirl of an entitled class at play. In fairness, it doesn’t look like much fun.
In The Cost of Living, Martin Parr captured the comfortable lives of the well-heeled revealing the degree to which one section of the population was cushioned from the day to day reality of life for the rest and the often grotesque of culture of wealth and upward mobility.
Martin Parr, Conservative 'mid summer madness' party, 1988
Conservative ‘mid summer madness’ party, 1988
Just as I wouldn’t want to wait for hours on end week in, week out in the dole offices documented in Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring, I’d hate to spend time at most of the events Parr recorded.
It’s not just that the pictures are now period pieces – a reminder of a different time – it’s that neither the people nor the places look like much fun. There is a grim determination to, well to what? To network maybe? To keep up appearances? To support the cause? To pass as belonging? Though many of the pictures are of parties, there seems to be more evidence of anxiety than of enjoyment.
Martin Parr, Young Conservative's BallYoung Conservatives’ Ball
The Young Conservatives look conservative, certainly; but only some of them look young. And if this is a ball, then I’ll take a pint in the pub any day. In part of course it’s that this is somewhat alien territory. My background and life experience maybe firmly middle class but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have blended in and passed for ‘one of us’ at any of these events. In the main though the grotesqueness is down to Parr’s picture-making. The camera angles, use of colour and Parr’s trademark use of fill flash all conspire to build a gloss of unpleasantness. The upwardly mobile, frozen in the moment
Martin Parr, Clifton College semmer fete, 1987

Clifton College Summer Fete

dinsdag 19 augustus 2014

Ger van Elk was Here (1941 - 2014) Photography

‘Ger van Elk was here’

In the National Gallery in London there is a full-length double portrait of the Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his bride Giovanna Cenani, painted in 1434 by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck. She has placed her hand in his; as they stand before the nuptial bed the two of them are entering into a pact. Between them hangs a convex mirror reflecting these two figures from behind and also two others facing the mirror, one of them probably the artist, for above the mirror is written ‘Johannes de eyck fuit hic’ (Jan van Eyck was here). These words not only give the panel a signature but make it into a document. This must have been the first time that an artist portrayed himself in a designated function.
The Dutch artist Ger van Elk (1941-) has frequently assigned himself a particular role in his work. In various interviews he has always explained this by saying that he himself was the cheapest model because he was always available. In Amsterdam he attended what is now known as the Gerrit Rietveld Academy from 1959 to 1961, when he left for Los Angeles. There he continued his training until 1963, but concentrated on studying history of art at the Immaculate Heart College. After travelling extensively through South and Central America he returned to the Netherlands in 1967. He still divides his time between the Netherlands and the New World.
Ger van Elk was twenty-two years old when the musician and designer George Maciunas explained in a manifesto the choice of the name ‘fluxus’ for his international and interdisciplinary movement. Fluxus was against expensive works of art, marketable art and commercial galleries. Fluxus rejected the attention given to individual artists, and as an antidote to this organised group activities of an unconventional nature. Cologne, Paris, London and Amsterdam were some of its centres in Europe. Among the participants were Wolf Vostell, Nam June Paik, Christo, Cage and Wim T. Schippers. It seemed as if the spirit of Dadaism had been reborn. Schippers and Ger van Elk worked together in 1962. Van Elk did not take part directly in the international fluxus movement but he felt drawn towards its informal collaborative way of thinking and acting. And some art critics rightly saw a
[p. 216]

Ger van Elk, Well Polished Floor Piece. 1969, Photograph, 150 × 150 cm. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

similarity between Marcel Duchamp, forerunner of the Dadaists, and Ger van Elk in their way of thinking and working; for both of them an unconventional theme was more important than the form.
An early example is the cactus that Ger van Elk lathered with shaving soap in 1969 and subsequently shaved clean with a safety razor. Two photos of The Well Shaven Cactus are evidence of this act. The first photo shows the lathered-up cactus with shaving tackle; in the second the tackle has been moved and the cactus stripped of its stubble. The photos do not make a documentary record of the action as a film or a series of photos would do, but by choosing the two important phases, before and after shaving, the emphasis is placed on the absurdist idea. The act itself, which for fluxus is always the main aim, remains, as does the performer, out of sight.
Yet this is not the case in the Well Polished Floor Piece dating from the same year. The photo that celebrates the floor-polishing shows a pair of male legs which tell us Ger van Elk was active here. They stand there like initials, a sign that the work has been completed and can be released, like a signature on a piece of sculpture or a painting. Unlike the group activities of fluxus, they attest to the individual artist's involvement in his work.

In Ger van Elk's oeuvre the photo occupies a prominent, even central position. Originally the photo recorded a single act as in The Well Shaven Cactus, but eventually the medium was to lose its documentary character. Since a photo - however much it may be manipulated - records whatever is there to be observed, it can be said that, as Ger van Elk himself has said, his art aims at a realistic depiction of non-realistic situations.
The photos of The Well Shaven Cactus record a Dadaist-absurdist event, the photo of the Well Polished Floor Piece a domestic activity: the polishing of a parquet floor. In his later work Ger van Elk has often made use of the triangle as a composition form: always seeking to stimulate the viewer's visual faculty, he has developed a preference for unusual frames.
[p. 217]

‘What I am after is a realistic depiction of non-realistic situations’

When Ger van Elk was in Los Angeles in 1971 he was confronted by the aftermath of an earthquake. Under a chunk of asphalt from a road that had been torn open he found a cigarette packet with some cigarettes still in it. This gave him the idea for the two photos of The Discovery of the Sardines. He replaced the cigarettes by sardines because he is crazy about sardines. Emerging from the cracks in the road, the small silver fish at first seem to be emerging from a dark underworld of human society, making a fascinating surrealistic image. In contrast with this enigma from another world, a fast car is speeding by whose chauffeur apparently has no eye for miracles.
The subtitle Placerita Canyon, Newhall, California indicates that the artist has not yet relinquished the documentary character of The Discovery of the Sardines; he is eager to convince us of the veracity of his vision.
So in addition to an affinity to Dadaism Ger van Elk's work has a bond with surrealism, the movement that was to succeed Dada historically. Van Elk's surrealism, however, has no Freudian overtones, nor is it in any way didactic, probably because wonder is its source of inspiration. What Van Elk offers us is not figments of the imagination but, like Picasso, finds and inventions.

In the series The Missing Persons (1976) Ger van Elk likewise presents us with a realistic depiction of a seemingly realistic situation. For example, in one photo from the series five statesmen are standing in a row for the official photographic record of their historic meeting, with an uncomfortable gap between two of them. In another three people are sitting together in overstuffed armchairs, all eyes directed towards an absent party. The photos allude to the way in which under dictatorial regimes figures are removed from official photos when people who have fallen from favour have to be expunged from the nation's memory. Ger van Elk constantly accentuates the

Ger van Elk, The Discovery of the Sardines. Placerita Canyon, Newhall, California. 1971. Two colour photographs (separately framed; 4th ed.), (2x) 65.5 × 55 cm. Collection Becht, Naarden.


[p. 218]

Ger van Elk, The Missing Persons. Conversation Piece. 1976. Coloured photograph, 106 × 124 cm. Collection Nigel P. Greenwood, London.

artificiality of this kind of situation through, for instance, the poses the figures strike, their shiny pomaded hair or the garish nature of their surroundings. The photos are coloured in and sometimes rephotographed to bring home to the viewer how he has begun to take artificiality for granted.
In the series The Adieu (1974) the realism in a non-realistic situation is more complex. The artificiality is already anticipated in the title derived from two languages. A painting may be seen on an easel; on the painting is a path bordered by wintry-looking trees, a cliché for the romantic attitude to nature. The path leads the eye to the horizon as in Hobbema's famous Avenue in Middelharnis (1689), a painting that has been inspiring both professional and Sunday painters of the realistic-naturalistic type for over three hundred years now. On the path in The Adieu Ger van Elk is standing waving goodbye to the viewer, as if about to turn around, walk down the path and vanish. Relatively speaking, he is not much larger than Jan van Eyck in the National Gallery portrait but here he is the only figure doing anything, in fact he is the only figure in the ‘painting’ on the easel, which is foreshortened. If the canvas were to be turned further away from us the figure of Van Elk would also become invisible. The foreshortening emphasises the artist's gesture of farewell which gives the work its title. The ‘canvas’ on the easel also seems to be about to disappear through the heavy blue curtains that ‘hang’ behind it. The clichéd counterfeit of nature, not even painted in oils but a coloured-in photograph, is framed by luxurious textile. The one artificiality reinforces the other. Is art going to disappear together with Van Elk? In any event, with its incongruous frame The Adieuprovides an ironic and whimsical commentary on the artificiality of traditional painting.
[p. 219]

‘The only thing one can do is rebel’

In a 1977 interview with the German art historian Antje von Graevenitz Ger van Elk said that he wanted to reconsider his point of view continually. To this he added: ‘The only thing one can do is rebel.’ These remarks clearly show that Ger van Elk has no intention of pursuing the same artistic course all the time. As his art is chiefly defined by its content, this, if it is to be innovative, requires shifts of view point. In the same spirit, the Flemish avantgarde poet and theoretician Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1928) wrote: ‘I get up in the morning with the problem: what can I do now that hasn't been done before.’ The problem of artistic renewal, crucial to every artist, is even more urgent for Ger van Elk because, preoccupied with the subject matter as he is, he is averse to an unchanging, recognisable style. His art, like his theoretics, is essentially dynamic.
In 1980 a large work, Triangle Balance Pull, came into being. Two figures appear to be pulling so hard on a rope that, with the soles of their feet set against each other, they and the rope form a horizontal diagonal. It is a trial of strength between two adult men, in which perspectival lengthening (of the legs) and foreshortening (of the trunk) give the viewer the sensation of witnessing a supreme effort. A formal balance is struck not only by the triangle, the various shades of red for the figure on the left also offset the violet-blue of the figure on the right. It is Ger van Elk who with his full length pits himself against Ger van Elk and in this way holds himself in balance.
By rejecting the support of a consistent style Ger van Elk frequently

Ger van Elk, The Adieu. 1974. Gouache and ink on colour photograph (in irregular quadrilateral frame), 132 × 84 cm. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
[p. 220]

Ger van Elk, Triangle Balance Pull. 1980. Colour photographs and acrylic paint on canvas, 110 × 490 cm. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Ger van Elk, Paysage Saignant (Pressure Sandwich). 1991. Oil on canvas / steel / paintings, 226 × 254 × 50 cm. Collection Liliane and Michel Durant-Dessert, Paris.

arrives at crossroads where he has to decide his direction without the help of a map. This is why he makes a figure of himself, or sometimes even two figures; Van Elk tussling with Van Elk in Triangle Balance Pull or Van Elk debating with Van Elk in The Western Stylemasters (1987). Furthermore, the title of the second work is in deliberate opposition to his desire not to be a stylemaster.
[p. 221]
In 1971 in The Return of Pierre Bonnard, 1917-1971 Ger van Elk displayed the back of a painting with stickers on it showing where and when it had been exhibited. And in 1975 in The Last Adieu, a work from the series The Adieu, he showed three paintings visible from the back only. If the artist was portrayed, the method of presentation made him invisible. In 1991 he took up the theme of the back that becomes the front once more by giving it the form of a sandwich. Since then he has employed the concept of the sandwich in a large number of variations.
The work created in 1991 has the half English, half French title ofPaysage Saignant (Pressure Sandwich). As in The Return of Pierre Bonnard, 1917-1971, it is the back of a painting that is shown to us. Four canvasses have been screwed together, with a number of small landscape paintings wedged between them. Parts of these small paintings protrude out of the sandwich; the screws, one must assume, go right through some of them. The large splotches of paint around the screws create the impression, reinforced by the title, that the paint has been squeezed out of the small wedged-in paintings.
This drastic representation, which almost hurts the viewer physically, takes sides in the clash between serious artists and the numerous unoriginal producers of painted landscapes. The second-rate work is a wan reflection of the great movements and styles; it is the work of the imitators of the masters. There is no question of peaceful co-existence: great art crushes the rest, puts thumbscrews on it, reduces it to the garbage of art history. This is art's blood-stained battlefield.

In the spring of 1993 a large exhibition of new work by Ger van Elk was held in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. The sandwich concept was so central to the exhibition that it was entitled Sandwiches, Pressing, Pushing, and Pulling. The tone was set by three-dimensional objects, varying in size from two to five metres. As early as 1968 Ger van Elk had made three-dimensional objects. In 1977 he told Antje von Graevenitz: ‘I chose film in order to add moving parts to sculpture’ (my italics).
At the Boymans-van Beuningen exhibition photographed and painted men's heads, already familiar to the viewer, were subjected to physical torture

Ger van Elk, Bitch. 1992. Gloss paint and varnish on wood / framed photographs under glass, 74 × 452 × 63 cm (Photo: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1993 exhibition).
[p. 222]
in various objects. In Bitch (1992) it is the turn of the female sex to be tormented. Photos of parts of female breasts and buttocks which, encased in circular pink frames, form an erotic ensemble, join forces to resist the pressure of the broad planks they are wedged between. The danger of being crushed makes the tension even greater than in Triangle Balance Pull. The ‘jaws’ that threaten to snap shut can, as the title suggests, also be seen as a vagina.
Exercise of Love, Hope and Faith from the same year is equally misogynistic. Stabbing red-, white- and black-lacquered women's fingernails protrude between the layers of a circular threedecker sandwich. On the top small pink noses poke through cracks in five places, suggesting that the rest of the bodies have been crushed. The size of the noses indicates that these men were no match for the super vamp. As in Bitch,deeply rooted fears are expressed here.
In his most recent work Ger van Elk depicts realistic situations surrealistically. Here he introduces a new theme: the battle between the sexes, its aggressivity and the traumas which result from it. While his early work already showed a remarkable amount of physical activity, violence has come to the fore since 1991.
In these latest works Ger van Elk is more present than ever. It can no longer be maintained, as he himself has done in various interviews, that he presents himself because he is the cheapest model. His own existence is now what is at stake. Presenting himself in his work has come to mean an almost physical resistance to threatening forces. With this, the rebellion which has been the guiding principle of his work down the years, has taken a dramatic turn.

jose boyens
Translated by Elizabeth Mollison.

Ger van Elk, Exercise of Love, Hope and Faith. 1992. Gloss paint and varnish on wood / ceramic / steel / photographs, 71 × 263 cm (Photo: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1993 exhibition).

Ger van Elk, Nederlands boegbeeld conceptuele kunst, overleden (73)

Ger van Elk. Foto VINCENT MENTZEL/ NRCH 2010
Ger van Elk in 2010 met op de achtergrond twee foto's die van hem zijn gemaakt in 1993 in museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Foto NRC / Vincent Mentzel
De internationaal vermaarde beeldend kunstenaar Ger van Elk is overleden. Dat melden twee galeries die hem vertegenwoordigen. Van Elk was onder meer bekend van zijn conceptuele sculpturen, installaties en beschilderde foto’s. Hij is 73 jaar oud geworden.
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Van Elk wordt samen met Jan Dibbets en Marinus Boezem gezien als de belangrijkste vertegenwoordiger van de conceptuele kunst in Nederland. Hij werkte met allerlei materialen, waaronder touw, canvas en hout. Zijn kunst is tentoongesteld in het Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, het Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago en The Museum of Modern Art in New York.


“Hij was één van de weinige Nederlandse kunstenaars die internationaal is doorgebroken”, zegt redacteur beeldende kunst Sandra Smallenburg. Hij was vertegenwoordigd in internationaal toonaangevende tentoonstellingen, zoals ‘Op losse schroeven/Situaties en cryptostructuren’ in het Stedelijk Museum, ‘When Attitudes Becomes Form’ in de Kunsthalle in Bern, beide in 1969, en ‘Sonsbeek buiten de perken’ in 1971. Smallenburg:
“Vorig jaar was bij de Fondazione Prada in Venetië, gelijktijdig met de Biënnale, een remake te zien van ‘When Attitudes Becomes Form’. Daar zat Van Elk weer bij, samen met Walter De Maria, Robert Smithson en Jan Dibbets.”
Zijn meesterwerk was La Pièce, zegt Smallenburg, een klein, witgeschilderd blokje hout op een roodfluwelen kussentje.
“Hij schilderde het midden op de oceaan wit, omdat de lucht zo zuiver en stofvrij mogelijk moest zijn. Hij maakte het op kruising van twee oceaanwinden. Het was een klein werkje, dat hij later exposeerde op een roodfluwelen kussen onder een glazen stolp, alsof het een diamant was. Het was een reactie op de spektakelkunst van de Amerikanen, zoals Robert Smithson, die in de jaren zeventig zo megalomaan mogelijk werkten door bijvoorbeeld in de natuur kilometers lange kunstwerken te bouwen.”

Foto van Sportive Time Study van Van Elk in het Kröller-Müller. Foto ANP/Ed Oudenaarden


Van Elk was in zijn kunst veel bezig met de kunst zelf. “Ik ben geen fotograaf en een schilder ben ik ook niet”, zei hij in 2012 in een interview met NRC Handelsblad.
“Ik ben geen fotograaf. Een schilder ben ik ook niet, zelfs niet als ik schilder. Ik onderzoek wel vaak de tradities van de schilderkunst. Ironisch zou ik mijn werk niet willen noemen. Ik ben eerder een romanticus. Als ik iets ben, is het nieuwsgierig. Voor sommige mensen lijkt het alsof ik van de hak op de tak spring, maar ik ben streng op wat ik maak.”
Van Elk over zijn meesterwerk La Pièce:
“La Pièce heb ik pas een paar jaar geleden verkocht. Christophe Cherix, conservator van het Museum of Modern Art in New York zag het bij mij op het atelier in Amsterdam en zei: ‘Hé, heb je er nog een gemaakt?’ Hij kon niet geloven dat La Pièce niet was aangekocht door een museum. Een paar weken later kreeg ik opeens bezoek van Evert van Straaten, de directeur van het Kröller-Müller. Hij vroeg wat ik ervoor wilde hebben. Twee ton, zei ik. ‘Dat gaan we organiseren’, zei hij. En dat is gelukt. Ach, mensen zien op het moment zelf bijna nooit wat goed is.”
Van Elk over zijn jeugdjaren in de VS:
“Toen ik twaalf was, was ik een lastig jongetje. Hopeloos. Op school in Nieuwendam wisten ze niet wat ze met me aan moesten. Ik moest een test doen bij het nationaal katholiek instituut voor beroepskeuze. Daar kwam uit dat ik fotograaf of binnenhuisarchitect moest worden. Mijn vader, die toen al lang in Los Angeles woonde, zei, ‘Ach jongen, kom maar naar Amerika, kom bij mij werken.’ Hij werkte in de tekenfilmindustrie, bijvoorbeeld voor The Flintstones. Ik ben inderdaad na een jaar op de Rietveld Academie naar Amerika gegaan, niet naar mijn vader, maar naar het Immaculate Heart College. Dat was een te gekke school, je kreeg les van allerlei rare types. Ik kreeg kunstgeschiedenis van nonnen, maar dan wel nonnen die in Cadillacs rondreden. John Cage gaf er ook les.”
“Ik heb lang tussen Amerika en Nederland op een neer gereisd. Nu ben ik alweer tien jaar vooral hier. Amerika is heel spannend, maar ik heb ook de melancholie van Europa in me.”

Ger van Elk, kunstenaar from Deen van der Zaken on Vimeo.
Een bezoek aan een tentoonstelling in het Stedelijk Museum zou eigenlijk 75 euro moeten kosten, zei Van Elk in NRC.
“Een kaartje voor het Concertgebouw kost 75 euro en het Concertgebouw zit gewoon vol. Maar bij kunst heeft niemand er voor over wat het echt kost. Ik ben een oude VVD’er, een rechtse bal. Ik geloof ernstig in vraag en aanbod. Ik was het wel eens met de bezuinigingen op kunst. Als je er niets voor over hebt, betekent het niets, net als in de liefde.”