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The Life of Things - The Idea of Still Life in Photography 1840 - 1985
Herbert Bayer, Still Life, 1936. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008.

MUNICH.- Münchner Stadtmuseum - Sammlung Fotografie presents today The Life of Things - The Idea of Still Life in Photography 1840 - 1985 150 Photographs from the Siegert Collection, on view through February 1, 2009. Since the early 1970s, Dietmar Siegert, a film director and producer in Munich, has been collecting photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, his collection is one of the most significant private collections of this medium in the world. One of his focal points is the genre of still life and nature morte. For the first time ever, the 150 selected original prints showcased in the exhibition "The Life of Things" provide an overview of and insights into the concept of still life in photography. This unusual collection includes not only the classical subjects of flowers, foods, and arts-and-crafts objects but also numerous "special finds" such as surreal and abstract compositions. In addition to famous incunabula, visitors will discover numerous yet lesser known images and photographers awaiting them throughout the exhibition.

Like painters, the photographers of the 19th century considered still lifes a subject matter of little import, with limited use for commercial applications. This resulted in creative opportunity that was specific to the genre. Still lifes afforded the photographer a stage for experiments evocative of the representational format of paintings. During the 19th century, compositions with fruit, flowers, hunting pieces, and kitchen still lifes were dominant - subject matters that were frequently also utilized by painters like Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and those of the Barbizon school (as well as the French photographers Camille Silvy, Charles Aubry, and Georg Maria Eckert from Heidelberg). At that time, one can already detect early signs of photography's new ways and methods of interpreting the world of objects (e.g., the works of the German photographers Ludwig Belitski and August Kotzsch) that is reminiscent of the modern movement's new and sober pictorial language.

The exhibits from the 20th century provide an overview of the expansion of the traditional type of still life until its eventual dissolution (e.g., with works from Man Ray, Roger Parry, Walker Evans, Hans Bellmer, and Madame d'Ora, all the way to David Hockney, Les Krims, and Jürgen Klauke). A focal point is the broad selection of French and Czech surrealist works (Emila Medková, Vilém Reichmann, Václav Zykmund, Jan Svoboda, and Alois Nožička) and of the Bauhaus (Herbert Bayer, Walter Peterhans, and Oscar Nerlinger) which not only showcase the sober new order, but also the unsettling and eerie character of nature morte.

The Dietmar Siegert Collection also includes still lifes by Eugène Atget, Alinari, Erwin Blumenfeld, František Drtikol, Hans Finsler, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Franz Hanfstaengl, Raoul Hausmann, Lewis Hine, Herbert List, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Christian Schad, Friedrich Seidenstücker, Giorgio Sommer, Emmanuel Sougez, Anton Stankowski, Josef Sudek, Wols, as well as many others.

Wachter Verlag in Heidelberg has published a book for the exhibition "The Life of Things", edited by Braus and including essays by Dorothea Ritter, an authority on art and cultural studies. The book may be purchased in the museum shop for €29.80.

Still Lives - When Things are Dreaming - Photographs from the Collection 1910-2008

The photography collection of the Münchner Stadtmuseum presents still lifes from the past one hundred years. The exhibition focuses on depicting a world of inanimate objects that assume lives of their own beyond their utilitarian value.

Pictorialism was in vogue from the late 19th century until World War I. For the first time, still lifes became widely appreciated. Lotte Eckener, Frank Eugene, Elfriede Reichelt, and Hanna Seewald created striking examples of the turn-of-the-century pictorial photographic style. Their works utilized soft focus and pictorial printing techniques enhancing the artistic expression of the image.

During the 1920s and 1930s, still life photography was dominated by two different types of composition. One depicted nature and technology in abstract structural and detailed studies. The other portrayed every-day objects that were artificially arranged in the studio. Their sober presentation illustrates the beauty of the functional. They are successors of the symbolic-decorative compositions that were created in the tradition of the still lifes painted by the old masters.

Product-oriented still life photography was of a special ilk. With the flourishing of newspaper advertising, photography took on new functions. For purposes of promotion, every-day objects had to be presented in an attractive fashion. Frequently, photographers zoomed in for close-ups of product details. Umbo employed a seductive rendition of surfaces; Edward Weston turned bell peppers into arrangements resembling sculptures.

With the surrealism of the 1920s and 1930s, the world of things metamorphosed into a mystical universe. Most notably, the objects exude an aura of ambiguity. They reveal their hidden beauty, frequently erotically charged. Josef Breitenbach depicts the New Yorker's dynamic attitude towards life in a magical composition: high rise buildings illuminated at night, in conjunction with a human circulatory system from a medical textbook. In his fotografia metafisica, Herbert List investigates the mysterious marriages of randomly generated constellations. Man Ray's rayographies explore the expressive potential of photography without a camera.

The artistic photography of the post-war era continued the search for subjectively portrayed pictorial worlds, invoking the avant-garde tendencies of the 1920s. The group fotoform around Otto Steinert became the new center of the West German photographic scene. Advertising photography - as illustrated by examples of images by Martha Hoepffner, Helmut Lederer, or Willi Moegle - also begins to show a tendency towards subjective photography. Parallel developments were occurring in the United States. Works by Lotte Jacobi, Berenice Abbott, and Hans Namuth realized Minor White's contemporaneous conceptions of a photography that explores the "paths of the subconscious".

During the past years, still lifes have increased in importance as part of contemporary photography and have engendered varied positions. In a quasi neo-dadaistic manner, Michael Janiszewski's composition of crumpled-up advertising brochures or daily newspapers demonstrates the clash of symbols and signal colors. Thomas Ruff's interiors document the state of contemporaneous living culture, but also present a psychogram of its inhabitants and reveal the nature of the objects. A catalog is available for this exhibition. It may be purchased in the museum shop for € 5.00.

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