432 rises on Park Avenue

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Manhattan is having a growth spurt. Three of the tallest apartment buildings in the world are going up and the publicity machine is in overdrive.

One of them, 432 Park Avenue, is an elegant white grid that rises to 1400ft, about as high as the Empire State Building, but all apartments. Several top floor penthouses sell for up to $80 million each (with annual fees of $360,000!). For the billionaire who absolutely must be on top of everyone else, this is for you.

Despite my envy and resentment toward the top 1%, the building is rather beautiful, and the photography and design of its marketing is innovative. Go to the elegant website and scroll in and out, it’s fun: 432parkavenue.com/

Then watch the amazing footage of the building going up: 432parkavenue.com/new-construction-in-NYC

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Sarah Charleworth’s Text

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Sarah Charlesworth, Text, 1992-93

Look at this beautiful picture by Sarah Charlesworth, an open book half concealed under folds of white satin. What is the picture about?

Along with her colleagues in the Pictures Generation such as Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons, much of Charlesworth’s art was addressed to the political issues of the 1970s and 80s: gender politics, neo-Marxist ideas about capitalism, the ‘society of the spectacle‘, Baudrillardian ideas about simulacra, the ‘the death of the author‘. In short, French theory in the post-structural vein.

In her early life, Charlesworth was a declared Communist and even travelled to China to experience it firsthand. That tilt in her thinking, though modified, never left her so it’s natural to try to read this picture with all that mind.

Significantly, the image is titled Text. It was in the 1980s and 90s that the word ‘text’ began to take on a new and wider meaning, referring to any cultural product, a book, a film, a comic or a photograph. This notion took hold in schools during the period when TV shows replaced books in high school English classes. Thus the title Text may refer here to the book half-concealed beneath the satin – it is a book-text. Or it could refer to this photograph-text, one that happens to contain a representation of a book.

Charlesworth’s picture is a conundrum, it seems to exist in two dimensions. The sensuous white satin draped over the open book can refer to the seductiveness and pleasure of reading. But at the same time, does it refer to the proposal outlined above, the danger of being seduced by books?

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Richard Avedon at Ian Potter

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Richard Avedon, James Baldwin, writer, Harlem, New York 1945

The exhibition Richard Avedon People at the Ian Potter Museum of Art is, incredibly, the first exhibition of Avedon’s work in Australia. It was curated by our National Portrait Gallery from the collection of The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York.

Avedon set up the Foundation before he died to preserve and control his life’s work, a vast collection. I visited it recently with students and was shown many treasures from the collection. It holds work prints, retouched originals and tear sheets and as well as exhibition prints from all his projects. One room stored 50,000 negatives (he destroyed many others) and another room held his enlarger (which I touched!).

Avedon was the leading postwar American fashion and portrait photographer, along with Irving Penn, working from the 1940s until his death in 2004. He was prolific and varied in his projects, doing street photography, high fashion, commisioned portraiture and publishing ventures. He was a people photographer, there are no still-lifes or landscapes. His portraits of political and cultural figures are an essential part of the record of the times and many of them are in this exhibition.

Richard Avedon People pays close attention to the dynamic relationship between the photographer and his sitters and focuses on Avedon’s portraits across social strata, particularly his interest in counter-culture. At the core of his artistic work was a profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual in society. 

Avedon’s signature style was cool black & white imagery of beautiful and interesting people set against white backgrounds. He worked better in black & white than in colour. The starkness of his pictures creates an electric intensity which is well displayed in the Ian Potter show. He printed very large at times, the giant portraits on show have a discrete line where two prints have been joined together – he wanted the pictures bigger than the available paper.

‘My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of what’s on the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues.’

 

The exhibition is at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Swanston St Carlton, and runs until March 15.

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Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955

 

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Imperfect beauty

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“Marks, scratches, poor processing, decay, age deterioration, repairs, cracks, tears, rips, and more. Here’s to the beauty of imperfect images.”

So writes John Foster about a collection of photographs presented in Design Observer, the popular design blog. Each print has been damaged through anger or accident, creating a new image more interesting than before. The damage has its own beauty and elevates the imagery to another plane. See above how the diagonal of yellowing sticky tape sets off the calm balance of the photo; and note how the pyramid of torn fragments below seems like an aesthetic choice. But by whom?

These wounds open the images to new interpretations and you can speculate on the circumstances that caused them. Taken out of their context of likeness and memento, they are given a second life as Found Objects or Readymades, “elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.” Now, they’re your work of art.

Some show that photographs have the power of icons. Like religious icons, photographs are substitutes for the person or thing represented and possess some of its power. The small paper image of the woman is, in some way, the woman herself. Tearing the image is tearing her. You would not say that about a drawing of her.

To see John Foster’s excellent page in Design Observer, click here.

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