Photography in the 60s and 70s


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, Photographed by Francisco Kjolseth/
The Salt Lake Tribune, September 2002

Notes from: Wall, Jeff. “‘Marks of Indifference’: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art” in Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-1975. Los Angeles, CA: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995.

p. 254

Using Bruce Nauman’s photographs as examples, Wall describes the two styles of photography that were able to co-exist in the late sixties and early seventies that had been at a divide previously – the documentary and the fake.

“The two styles, reduced to a set of basic formulae and effects, are signifiers for the new co-existence of species of photography up to that time. It is as if the reportage works go back to Muybridge and the sources of all traditional concepts of photographic documentary, and the color pictures to the early ‘gags’ and jokes, to Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy, to the birthplace of effects used for their own sake. The two reigning myths of photography – the one that claims that photographs are ‘true’ and the one that claims they are not – are shown to be grounded in the same praxis, available in the same place, the studio, at that place’s moment of historical transformation.”

p. 261

Non-art as art

“Sometimes the early years of Pop art seem like a race to find the most perfect, metaphysically banal image, that cipher that demonstrates the ability of culture to continue when every aspect of what had been known in modern art as seriousness, expertise, and reflexiveness had been dropped. The empty, the counterfeit, the functional, and the brutal themselves were of course nothing new as art in 1960, having all become tropes of the avant-garde via Surrealism. From the viewpoint created by Pop art, though, earlier treatments of this problem seem emphatic in the adherence to the Romantic idea of the transformative power of authentic art. The anaesthetic is transformed as art, but along the fracture-line of shock. The shock caused by the appearance of the anaesthetic in a serious work is calmed by the aura of seriousness itself.”

p. 266

Photography as viable art (origins)

“dragging its heavy burden of depiction, photography could not follow pure, or linguistic, Conceptualism all the way to the frontier.” “In this light, it could be said that it was photography’s role and task to turn away from Conceptual art, away from reductivism and its aggressions. Photoconceptualism was then the last moment of the pre-history of photography as art, the end of the Old Regime, the most sustained and sophisticated attempt to free the medium from its peculiar distanced relationship with artistic radicalism and from its ties to the Western Picture. In its failure to do so, it revolutionized our concept of the Picture and created the conditions for the restoration of that concept as a central category of contemporary art by around 1974.”


Vik Muniz, Spiral Jetty after Robert Smithson, from the series Brooklyn, NY, 1997; Collection SFMOMA



The Cartellino

Boilly - Trompe l'œil au crucifix en ivoire et en bois

Boilly – Trompe l’œil au crucifix en ivoire et en bois

Notes from Milman, Miriam. The Illusions of Reality: Trompe L’oeil Painting. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1983.

p. 12

“At about the same period [mid 1400s-1500s] the cartellino makes its appearance – a small slip of paper skilfully folded, with its edges turned down and bearing the painter’s signature or other inscriptions. As a luminous surface, its whiteness immediately visible, the cartellino stands out from the picture and enters unequivocally the world of the spectator. It also brings a direct message from the artist to the public. The signature, date or title inscribed on the cartellino go to establish it as a real object, while thrusting the picture content back into the world of illusion. The folded or crumbled scrap of paper standing out so effectively from the plane surface of the painted picture later became a stock device of trompe-loeil painting.”

The cartellino reminds me of the labels found on the back of the canvas indicating ownership and exhibition history. It also makes me wonder when artists / owners started attaching labels to the backs of works of art.


First example of the cartellino. Madonna by Lippi, 1437

From German Wikipedia: “das erste Cartellino in dem Gemälde Tarquinia Madonna von Fra Filippo Lippi aus dem Jahr 1437. Die Verwendung von Cartellini nahm ab Mitte des 15. Jahrhunderts in der italienischen Malerei immer mehr zu, bis sie im ersten Viertel des 16. Jahrhunderts den Gipfel der Popularität erreichte.”

The Rhetoric of Perspective

“On the left is Gijsbrechts’s Cabinet of Curiosities With an Ivory Tankard, painted from the front; on the right the same subject reworked, showing the back of the door” – Richard Dorment

Quotes from Grootenboer, Hanneke. The Rhetoric of Perspective: Realism and Illusionism in 17th century Dutch Still-Life Painting. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

p. 3

“The discovery of perspective has created a clear-cut caesura between the appearance of reality and the reality of appearance. Perspective makes a particular claim to truth.”

p. 6

“Still life has a particular investment in the ‘art of describing’ because it is purely descriptive: literally nothing distracts from the objectifying representation of mere objects. Not intending to tell as story or communicate a message, still life calls attention to the mere recording of objects, or rather to the artist’s scrutinizing gaze upon these objects. Still life invites us to look at the overlooked, to use Norman Bryson’s phrase, and show how still-life artists were looking for the overlooked as well. They picture the margins of their visual fields, or rather they show scenes that would normally reside in the margins of a major painting. Still-life artists have promoted what used to be called ‘by-work’ in narrative pictures into an independent form of painting.”

p. 8

“His [Gijsbrechts] famous chantourne, a cutout panel of a painter’s easel offers commentary on the status of representation as well as on the provocation of the viewer.” Gijsbrechts paints the same subject over and over revealing “a fascination with the subject matter as much as a preoccupation with recording it.”

p. 15

Why were the Dutch creating such realistic paintings?

“The Dutch genres exhibit a preoccupation with new developments in the science of vision and are themselves like experiments: painting as a mirror, or a map, or the visual world.”

p. 5

“Dutch still lifes in particular are especially preoccupied with virtually scientific modes of describing inanimate objects, flowers, shells, fruits, and other edibles. The genre is a product of Dutch seventeeth-century culture and its expressed fascination with observing and recording reality in a variety of circumstances. The science of vision flourished in the Netherlands, and its investigations resulted in new technologies, such as the microscope and the camera obscura, just as the Golden Age was drawing to a close. The Dutch also were pioneers in mapmaking, another mode of recording the world. Research in sciences other than optics, such as botany, called for scientific modes of illustrating plants and flowers at different stages of growth ad vivum, from life. In the field of philosophy, epistemological questions were approached in the context of optical and technological developments. Within this cultural environment, Dutch artists made meticulously detailed recordings of the visible world their specialty. Painters specialized in particular subject matter and became masters in the representation of church interiors, exotic fruit and flowers, cityscapes, shells, and so forth. The paintings of the Golden Age are testimonies to this preoccupation with a scientific mode of observing and describing every thinkable detail of the visible world.”

p. 19

Still life paintings call “for a different mode of looking. The still life anticipates such a mode of looking by raising issues concerning the nature of its own representation, which do not lead us, as viewers, to interpretation but to a state that is most thought-provoking, namely, thinking.”

The Pictures Generation

Sherrie Levine – Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp), 1991

Quote from Eklund, Douglas. The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.

p. 152-153

“That both Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince became known for stealing the images of others– whether great artists from the canon or hack advertising photographers– and claiming them as their own gave them the reputation of outlaws of sorts, and to this day both take pleasure from the visceral reactions that their thefts provoke. On paper at least, the critics had it exactly right: in their early appropriations, Prince and Levine broke a law so fundamental and widely accepted that it isn’t visible until someone breaks it. This law maintains that the artist must vouch for the paternity of his (or her) work, that it came from the artist and not some other source; the entire aesthetic house of cards and all of the salutary myths that art provides for society are built around this symbolic rite of ownership.”

Two Cures: Making Art Visible


Groys, Boris. “Two cures: making art visible” in After the Event: New Perspectives on Art History, edited by Charles Merewether and John Potts. Manchester University Press: Manchester and New York, 2010.

“On the one side the liberated digital image seems to confront a new imprisonment, a new confinement inside the museum’s and exhibition’s walls. On the other side the art system seems to be compromised by exhibiting digital copies instead of originals. Of course, one can argue that digital photographs or videos – like ready-mades or analogue films and photographs before them – being put into the exhibition space demonstrates the loss of the aura, the postmodern scepticism towards the modernist notion of originality.” p.9

Permanent Collection by Tim Davis


Tim Davis – Betty

Notes from Davis, Tim. Permanent Collection. Tucson, Arizona: Nazraeli Press, 2005.

Two very short essays are found in this oversize lavishly illustrated book. The first essay is titled “A New Luminist” by Bill Berkson and the second “Reflecting the Canon: Tim Davis’s Materialist Contingencies”. The first essay centers on Davis’s focus on lighting, and how the distorted lighting of the art museum is present in his work. Davis’s work connects with Muniz’s work in that both investigate how viewers see works of art and the traces of time found on paintings – Davis looks at the front, Muniz the back. Berkson states that Davis’s “personal exemplars” include Walker Evans, Abe Morrell, and Rudy Burckhardt. Davis’s subject matter differs from Muniz in that he is photographing mostly works of art by European masters from the 1500s to the 1800s. The two exceptions are Gerhard Richter’s Betty, and Walker Evans Church Window. It is interesting to note that both Davis and Muniz refer to the works of art by their title only, neither artist mentions the original author in their titles.

Quotes from Berkson essay:

Art objects as they are shown in Davis’s pictures are slices of life as much as any contemporary experience, and seeing them in their stark material aspects, all varnished ridges, striations and cracklings, enhances their poignancy, so that more, rather than less, meaning leaks into the mix.

The encounter with the intimate lineaments of a thing – a rare type of photographic fool-the-eye – is complex, as funny as it is annoying. […] Faced with the pictures’ intrinsic disorientations, you foolishly shift your center of gravity from side to side; as the fixed image refuses to respond – you cannot see the picture better – the Decisive Moment becomes a vain perceptual joke.

Quotes from Beshty essay:

Cracked surfaces bear the marks of time on hallowed masterpieces…

The mythic timelessness of a Watteau or Van Gogh collapses into the temporal and the fleeting, the fragility of age bleeding to the surface like a secret that crept trompe l’oeil out from the conservator’s backrooms and into view. It is this incompatibility between the material understanding of the work, and the seduction of its aura, that Davis offers.

…the tabula rasa of the museum wall accidentally seeped to the surface of the canvases it was meant to disappear behind. Photography has perennially navigated this space between the fleeting and the eternal, between seduction and contemplation, between revelation and concealment…

Duchamp’s readymades

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, replica 1960

Notes from Molesworth, Helen. Part Object Part Sculpture. Columbus, Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University; University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.

p. 183-185

“It is well documented, but not much discussed, that the Swedish curator Ulf Linde and the Italian art dealer Arturo Schwarz helped to meet this demand [interest in Duchamp’s lost readymades increased in the late 1950s and early 1960s] in the early 1960s by making handmade versions of the readymades. In 1960 Linde made copies of Bicycle Wheel and Fresh Widow for a gallery exhibition of Duchamp’s work in Stockholm. It appears that, at first, Duchamp was unaware of these copies. At Linde’s beckoning, Duchamp traveled to Stockholm in 1961, where he was presented with Linde’s copies, both of which he graciously signed ‘copie conforme.'”

Marcel Duchamp, “Bottle Rack,” 1963 replica of 1914 original.

p. 185-188

“The second important public viewing of Linde’s replicas was in Arturo Schwarz’s Milan gallery in an exhibition held there in 1963, precisely the moment Schwarz himself was beginning to remake a set of the lost readymades. […] The precise details of how the Schwarz edition came to pass are not exactly known. […] It was agreed that all the readymades would be editioned in groups of eight with two extra copies, one for Duchamp and one for Schwarz. Suffice it to say that the vast majority of people who have encountered a readymade in the second half of the twentieth century have seen one from the set Schwarz produced in 1964.

Unlike the Linde replicas, the Schwarz readymades were overseen by Duchamp at every turn, and accuracy was of the essence as Schwarz hired professional engineers to make blueprints of the readymades based on the photographs. Only Fountain was not produced solely by a craftsman. A mold was made by a ceramicist and given to an Italian plumbing manufacturer, where, one evening, the factory line of mass production was halted as twelve Fountain sculptures were made instead. Schwarz subsequently hired professional craftsmen to make the objects – a glassblower for Paris Air, a welder for the Bottle Rack, a carpenter for the Hat Rack. The dominant art-historical reception of the readymade sees it as the agent that introduced the forces of mass production into the realm of art, yet this account too easily neglects the ‘handmade’ wrinkle in the story.”

Marcel Duchamp Traveller’s Folding Item (UNDERWOOD), 1916 (replica 1963-64), ready-made, cm 30 x 40 x 24, Collezione privata

p. 188

“If the meaning of objects (aesthetic and otherwise) derives, in relatively equal measure, from their function and their production, then the handmade quality of the remade readymades, and Duchamp’s explicit decision to have them refabricated in editions, seems wholly contradictory, certainly qualifying our sense of the ‘original’ readymades.”

18th Century American Trompe L’oeil

A trompe l’oeil can incorporate other objects. Gysbrechts Cut-Out Trompe l’Oeil Easel with Fruit Piece uses an easel and paintings of items found in a studio – palette, rag, and brushes painted on canvases cut to the size of the objects to make the paintings look more real. Charles Willson Peale uses a similar technique with his The Staircase Group. Here a door frame and a stair are incorporated into the work to make the painting more convincing.

The Staircase Group (Portrait of Raphaelle Peale and Titian Ramsay Peale I), 1795. Charles Willson Peale, American, 1741 – 1827

On page 164 in the textbook American Encounters there is this description of the work: “To heighten the illusionism of the painting, Peale installed it within a door frame, complete with an actual stair step and riser at the base of the painting. The effect was electrifying. When George Washington visited Peale’s Philadelphia Museum two years later, he saw the reinstalled painting, and, according to a report by Peale’s son Rembrandt, ‘bowed politely to the painted figures.’ So powerful was Peale’s illusionism that Washington had mistaken Peale’s figures for living persons” (1).

Unlike examples of trompe l’oeil from the 19th century, Peale’s painting has a message of upward mobility for artists. “It is also part of what the art historian David Steinberg has called Peale’s ‘project of cultivating a public for high art.’ Despite its illusionism, The Staircase Group possesses meanings that extend beyond its realistic style. Raphaelle’s progress along the stairwell with his palette and maulstick suggests that not just he, but the arts themselves, are ascending. The painting links the cultural endeavor with national progress in a theme of uplift and ascent” (2).

Raphaelle Peale, Fruit Piece with Peaches Covered by a Handkerchief (Covered Peaches), circa 1819.

Peale’s son Raphaelle also creates a few trompe l’oeil paintings that have a deeper meaning than just fooling an audience and creating work for the market. In Framing America by Frances K. Pohl there are two examples of Peale’s trompe l’oeil works. The first is Fruit Piece with Peaches Covered by a Handkerchief (Covered Peaches) from circa 1819, the second is Venus Rising from the Sea – A Deception (After the Bath), from circa 1822. Of these two paintings it is the Venus Rising From the Sea that may be a sign that Raphaelle was rejecting his father’s world.

Raphaelle Peale, Venus Rising from the Sea - A Deception (After the Bath), circa 1822

Raphaelle Peale, Venus Rising from the Sea – A Deception (After the Bath), circa 1822

“While embracing this mythological subject, Raphaelle simultaneously rejects the subject, and the academic canon it represents, by not painting Venus. He may also have been commenting wryly on a gradual increase in the number of prints and paintings of naked women in the homes of prosperous Americans, who passed off their presence as a sign of cultivation rather than as an opportunity to indulge in more sensual viewing pleasures. Indeed, Raphaelle’s Venus looks back to an engraving by Valentine Greene after James Barry’s Venus Rising from the Sea of 1771, an engraving that is thought to have been the source for a 1774 painting of Venus by Raphaelle’s father.”…”Raphaelle negates the academic system upon which his father based his whole career as an artist, as well as the corruptions of an art market his father wanted him willingly to join.”…”He is also effacing the efforts of his father to define him – literally – for it was recently discovered that beneath this painting of Venus lies Raphaelle’s copy of his father’s 1822 half-length portrait of him (the barely visible segment of a framed still life at the upper right and a palette and brushes at the lower left are from the original portrait). He initially simply covered the face and shoulders with the cloth, only subsequently backing away from such a direct refusal of his father’s image and transforming the painting into Venus Rising” (3).

1. Miller, Angela L. et al. American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008 (164).

2. Ibid, p. 165.

3. Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012 (189).

19th Century American Trompe L’oeil I

According to Ebert-Schifferer, one of the reasons trompe l’oeil painting flourished in 17th century Holland and 19th century America is because both had bourgeois economies with small capitalist markets (1). In Framing America by Frances K. Pohl we see the same explanation: “While the academician might place still life at the lower end of the hierarchy of genres (with history painting still assuming a prominent place at the top), and might also dismiss trompe l’oeil illusionism as lacking in that crucial element of great art – imagination – the department store shopper and middle-class traveler followed his or her own tastes. And these tastes were increasingly being guided by the same men who marketed other objects with persistence in their stores and saloons. The art market was, indeed, becoming more ‘democratic,’ much to the chagrin of artists like Whistler and Dewing”(2).

William Michael Harnett, Faithful Colt, 1890

Even though the burgeoning marketplace made it possible for artists to survive on painting still lifes and trompe l’oeil subject matter, it was not advised that the artists actually paint new commodities. As quoted in James A. Cook’s book The Arts of Deception, artist William Harnett explained in the New York News that “To find a subject that paints well is not an easy task. As a rule, new things do not paint well. …I want my models to have the mellowing effect of age” (3). In Framing America Pohl writes, “‘Old and worn objects provided appealing subject matter,’ writes [David] Lubin, ‘but just so long as the portrayal of them, the painting itself, had the look of an obejcet good as new.'” Harnett’s works suggested “that traditional ways of life could coexist with the new machine age. This was a message welcomed by many caught up in the psychological and material dislocations of an urbanizing and industrializing era” (4).

Cook looks further into why the trompe l’oeil paintings were so popular with a broad audience and finds that viewers were being tested about what is real and not in a variety of exhibitions. In addition to exhibits of trompe l’oeil paintings in galleries there were also exhibits by P. T. Barnum at his museum in New York and his traveling circus, as well as the rise of the Expositions held in cities around the U. S.

View of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. The Museum was a popular attraction in New York in the 1850s.

In 1888 in St. Louis the Exposition featured George W. Platt’s “Vanishing Glories” which made the news because it was so well executed. People debated how it was made. A news article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “A great many people think that the picture is painted on an old barn door, and others think that the artist has simply painted well the old weather beaten pine. It is a very puzzling question whether he has used wood or canvas, and every night there is discussion over it between the people of different opinions” (5).

1.  Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille. Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l’Oeil Painting. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 2002 (95).

2. Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012 (295).

3. Cook, James W. The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001 (224).

4. Pohl, p. 296

5. Cook, p. 241