CORAL GABLES.- Edward Weston: Life Work and Apocalypse Then: Images of Destruction, Prophecy and Judgment from Dürer to the Twentieth Century will be on view at the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, from Saturday, September 17 through Sunday, November 13, 2005. The Weston exhibition, a 100-image survey, contains an outstanding grouping of vintage prints from all phases of Westons five-decade career. The destiny of humanity, as expressed in images from the 1490s to the 1990s, is the subject of Apocalypse Then.
The exhibition features several of Westons first photographs from a family album, incorporating rare early self-portraits and landscapes; also included is Westons last photograph, made in 1948, near his home in Carmel, California, where he died ten years later. Between these first and last images are some of the most highly prized and acclaimed photographs of the 20th century. They encompass Westons 50-year creative trajectory, which coincided with a major shift in American photography from soft-focus, sentimental Pictorialism to hard-edged high Modernism.
Previously unpublished masterpieces are interspersed with well-known signature images. A striking 1909 outdoor Pictorialist study of his wife Flora is perhaps Weston's first nude. A 1907 landscape features a cow skull in the Mojave Desert and presages by thirty years his later interest in death in the desert. A smoky view of the Chicago River harbor, from 1916, pays homage to Coburn and Stieglitz, and anticipates the urban modernism famously captured by Armco Steel, Ohio, 1922, which marked Westons final break from the confines of Pictorialism and studio work, and the emergence of a sharply focused style.
In the mid-1920's Weston unleashed a newly trimmed-down approach in Mexico with Tina Reciting, Heaped Black Ollas, and Excusado. Upon his return to the United States in December 1926, Weston continued to experiment with pure form and disconcerting scale shifts in his long exposures of shells, peppers, mushrooms, radishes and kelp. These studies segue naturally into a remarkable set of sculptural nudes done in 1933 and 1934. Subsequently Weston pulled back and loosened up his style considerably, as he turned to the open landscape.
In addition to landscapes and studies of desert detritus made with the support of a Guggenheim grant, portraits of prominent artistic and literary figures are also well represented. The chronological survey concludes with Weston's consummate final photograph, nicknamed The Dody Rocks, 1948.
As Merle Armitage wrote in the 1932 monograph, Edward Weston: Life Work, Edward Weston
cause his fellow men to become aware of the beauty and the significance of the commonplace.
Edward Weston: Life Work is organized and circulated by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles; all works courtesy of the Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg Collection.
Apocalypse Then: Images of Destruction, Prophecy and Judgment from Dürer to the Twentieth Century spans five centuries and offers a glimpse of how artists have interpreted the perceived end of time. Using Albrecht Dürer's series of woodcuts Apocalypse with Pictures (Apocalypsis cum Figuris) as a point of departure, Apocalypse Then traces apocalyptic imagery through history. Other artists represented include William Blake (1757-1827); Pablo Picasso (1881-1973); and Ed Ruscha (1937- ). Besides works from the Acklands permanent collection, Apocalypse Then also includes works on loan from The University of North Carolinas Rare Book Collection and anonymous lenders.
Dürers series, published simultaneously in Latin and German in 1498, is the artists interpretation of the book most usually thought of as describing the apocalypse: The Revelation of St. John the Divine at the end of the Bible. The work was perhaps the first attempt to interpret text through images that accompany it but are not subordinate to it -- the equivalent of making a film version of a novel today. Dürer's pictures, especially the famous Four Horsemen, are such powerful visual statements that they have shaped the way people envision the biblical narrative.
For two hundred years after Dürer's time, images of divine judgment inspired generations of printmakers. But in the more rationalistic atmosphere of the eighteenth century, apocalyptic messages came to be couched in broader terms. In Hogarth's picture stories, judgment comes in this rationalistic world - in the form of madness, disease, or capital punishment. The Reward of Cruelty shows a murderer punished by medical dissection after his execution. Yet Hogarth's print incorporates symbolic elements like the dog devouring the murderer's heart that take it beyond a simple documentation of the British justice system.
William Blake, who reacted strongly against eighteenth-century rationalism, followed Dürer's example in creating a series of pictures parallel to a biblical text. But Blake's illustrations of the book of Job are a far more personal interpretation of the text than Dürer's. For Blake, Job's suffering represents the replacement of one idea of God by another in Job's own soul. In Job's Evil Dreams, the God of traditional justice is transformed into Satan - preparatory to a new revelation of a God of love.
Although some 19th- and 20th-century works in the exhibition include literal illustrations of the Biblical Revelations, most works from this time period are concerned primarily with ways that artists have adapted apocalyptic imagery to other concerns.
Nineteenth century prophets of social revolution or nationalism often couched their messages in apocalyptic terms, with political apocalypse reaching a climax during the First World War. In 1918, long before nuclear annihilation became a real possibility, Joseph Pennell's poster That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth evoked the fear of mechanical angels of wrath, with a wrecked Statue of Liberty, and Manhattan in flames beyond.
Later in the twentieth century, political themes sometimes merge with personal ones in an apocalyptic mode. At first glance, Philip Guston's print The Street may seem no more than a jumble of crudely drawn but recognizable objects. However, in combination, the policeman's fist and truncheon, the rain of bricks, and the shoes whose wearers seem to have been thrust down a manhole give us an ominous image of force (just or unjust?) crushing humanity. In addition, at the lower right, a lumpish head is signed with a G for an ear - Guston himself contemplating the scene he has created.
In the twenty-first century, we seem to be witnessing the displacement of the still picture by the moving one; computer-generated images can envelop us in an imaginary reality. Yet if we take the time to contemplate them, these older pictures from the age of the print still have the power to carry us to a world of cosmic struggle or resolution - expanding our minds without overwhelming them. Apocalypse Then: Images of Destruction, Prophecy and Judgment from Dürer to the Twentieth Century is on loan from and organized by the Ackland Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.