A major new exhibition at Tate Modern
reveals the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art is the first show of this scale to explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction, from the early experiments of the 1910s to the digital innovations of the 21st century. Featuring over 350 works by more than 100 artists, the exhibition explores the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.
Shape of Light places moments of radical innovation in photography, such as Alvin Langdon Coburns pioneering vortographs from 1917, within the wider context of abstract art. This relationship between media is explored through the juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers, such as cubist works by George Braque and photographs by Pierre Dubreuil, or the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Otto Steinerts luminograms. Abstractions from the human body associated with surrealism including André Kerteszs Distorsions, Imogen Cunninghams Triangles and Bill Brandts Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, are exhibited together with a major painting by Joan Miró. Elsewhere the focus is on artists whose practice spans diverse media including photography, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.
The exhibition also acknowledges the impact of MoMAs landmark photography exhibition of 1960, The Sense of Abstraction. Installation photographs of this pioneering show are displayed with some of the works originally featured in the exhibition, including important works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since the MoMA show, 58 years ago.
The connections between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting are examined, with rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from the 1960s, featuring a striking painting by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neusüss and Gottfried Jäger. Rooms are also dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition culminates in a series of new works by contemporary artists, Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, exploring photography and abstraction today.
Shape of Light is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography), Tate Modern and Emmanuelle de l'Ecotais, Curator for Photography, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris with Shoair Mavlian and Sarah Allen, Assistant Curators, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.