Take an inside look at the art world in these eight films screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Watch a documentary on Julian Schnabel, an exposé on the inner workings of the art world, or take a personal look into the life of photojournalist Chris Hondros. And if you missed Julian Rosefeldt’s installation at the Park Avenue Armory, experience it in his film Manifesto.
Rashid Johnson appears in Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World. Photographer: Ken Ng.
1. Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World Ever wanted to know how the art world, and all its shifting gears and cogs, actually works? Enter Blurred Lines, a documentary that unpacks the art world and all its moving parts, including curators, gallerists, donors, auction houses, and the artists themselves. Featuring cameos from Marina Abramovic, Julian Schnabel, and Damien Hirst, Barry Avrich’s film reveals the art world system and its relationship to market forces.
Cate Blanchett in Manifesto. Photo by Julian Rosefeldt.
2. Manifesto In the film adaptation of Julian Rosefeldt’s 13-channel video installation, Cate Blanchett transforms herself into a myriad of characters, each reading a manifesto on the true nature of art. Rosefeldt brings in manifestos from the Futurists, Dadaists, Suprematists, Fluxus, Dogma 95, Sol LeWitt, Claes Oldenburg, and many others. Manifesto explores the idea of artistic intention, and ends up examining storytelling itself.
A film still from Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait.
3. Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait The eponymous documentary examines the life and career of Julian Schnabel. Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait tracks his art world success story, beginning in the 1970s when he first moved to New York, on to his rise to prominence via the Neo-Expressionist movement, and through to his current success as an artist and film maker. The film combines home movies, photographs, and new footage of the artist. Featuring commentary from Jeff Koons, Mary Boone, Willem Dafoe, and Julian Schnabel himself, A Private Portrait pieces together a complex picture of the artist.
Pekka Strang as Touko Laaksonen in Tom of Finland. Photo by Josef Persson.
4. Tom of Finland Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland, was an influential force in 20th century gay culture. After serving in World War II, he struggled to conceal his homosexuality from his loved ones, and began making his now famous homoerotic drawings. Tom of Finland crafts a drama that centers on Touko’s art, and how his drawings brought him to Los Angeles and the sexual revolution.
Robert Clohessy as Frank, Laurie Simmons as Ellie, John Rothman as John, all portraying characters from A Clockwork Orange in My Art, written & directed by Laurie Simmons. Photo credit: Dylan Nelson.
5. My Art Laurie Simmons, who wrote, directed, and stars in this film, is no stranger to films and tropes. In My Art, Simmons plays as Ellie, a single, middle-aged artist in New York City who goes upstate for a weekend to house sit, and ends up recreating classic Hollywood scenes in the barn attached to the house. She soon invites three local men to participate in her videos, and has to juggle work and pleasure.
Dream Hilda (Lindsay Dunn) and Hilda O’Connell (Hilda O’Connell) in Hilda. Photographer: Greg Harriott.
6. Hilda Few know about the artist Hilda O’Connell, who lived among the Abstract Expressionist painters in the 1950s. This short documentary is a tribute to O’Connell, taking on a realist approach in recounting her time with the AbEx painters and later with Aegis Gallery in the 1960s.
Richard Hambleton in Shadowman. Photographer: Hank O’Neal.
7. Shadowman Before Basquiat became synonymous with the 1980s New York art world, there was Richard Hambleton. His shadowmen, painted in the alleys and walls of New York City, earned him the title of “godfather of street art.” But just as quickly as he burst on the art scene, he fell off the radar, a disappearance that has been widely attributed to drugs and homelessness. Shadowmen takes us through this journey with archival footage that captures the grit and danger of 1980s New York City. In the end, we find Hambleton on the Lower East Side, still unrecognized and still working.
Liberian soldier Joseph Duo exults after firing a rocket at rebel forces in Monrovia, Liberia in 2003. The photo led to an unlikely and enduring friendship between the subject and the photographer, Getty Images photojournalist Chris Hondros. Film still from Hondros. Photo by Chris Hondros.
8. Hondros Chris Hondros was an award-winning photojournalist who went deep into war-torn countries to capture the humanity and suffering of many different peoples. Before being killed in Libya in 2011, Hondros covered nearly every major conflict that took place during his career, starting with the wars in Kosovo in 1999. Hondros is not just a documentary about his photographs though. The director, Glenn Campbell, a childhood friend of Hondros, paints us a picture of the person behind the camera, a man of depth and sensitivity whose photographs still influence us today.
The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival will run April 20–30, 2017.
On the day of Edward Steichen’s birth we look back at his painterly take on photography
Wind, Fire, Therese Duncan on the Acropolis, Athens (1921) by Edward Steichen
A snowy evening is a fine beginning for any story, and a suitable start for photography’s romantic early movement. On 5 March 1902, a winter evening beset by a late blizzard, the first exhibition of the Photo-Secession was opened by the art impresario Alfred Stieglitz at New York City’s National Arts Club, a private club for men and women committed to promoting the applied arts.
“The Photo-Secessionists, hand-picked by Stieglitz and tightly controlled by him, were American fine-art photographers, part of a larger, international aesthetic movement called Pictorialists,” explains the text in Art in Time. “Pictorialists championed subjective picture-making in the manipulation of the photographic image, often transcending time and emulating other visual art forms, such as painting, drawing and etching; this approach was in direct opposition to sharp, documentary, topographical, factual photographs.”
The Pond - Moonrise (1904) by Edward Steichen. As reproduced in Art in Time.
These images makers, which included such photographers as Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence H. White and Stieglitz himself, were no longer overawed by photography’s ability to be realistic, as their forbears had been. The Photo-Secessionists wanted to move away from the old photographic ideal of accurately representing the world, and towards a 'painterly' approach towards photographic image making.
“Members of the Photo-Secession aimed to ‘secede’ from conventional Victorian approaches and styles, in both techniques and subject matter. Techniques they employed included the use of special filters and lenses, cropping, soft focus and other darkroom manipulations, such as sepia toning and burning," according to Art in Time.
Rodin - Le Penseur (1902) by Edward Steichen. As reproduced in The Photography Book
And if there was one photographer whose early work embodied this it was the Luxembourg-born, US raised photographer, Edward Steichen. “Having trained as a painter, Steichen believed in the role of the photographer as a creator, subject to inner visions,” writes Ian Jeffrey in The Photography Book.
Working in close collaboration with Stieglitz, and drawing on such European, fine-art influences, Steichen refined this new photographic ideal.
“Edward Steichen’s work The Pond – Moonrise, a soft-focus work that also exhibits added colour on the platinum print, embodies the moody, reflective feeling and content of European Symbolist paintings,” Art in Time explains.
The final formal, Photo-Secession exhibitions, overseen by Stieglitz and featuring Steichen’s work, was staged at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery in 1910, and, over the following decades, this painterly, picturesque style made way for Modernism.
Nevertheless, Steichen’s artistic sensibilities influenced many subsequent photographers. As the director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art from 1947 until 1962, he helped further the careers of numerous fellow practitioners, including Ansel Adams and a teenaged Stephen Shore, who sold his first photographs to Steichen.
Steichen's 1955 exhibition, The Family of Man, is widely regarded as a seminal humanist photography show, while his classic photograph, The Pond – Moonrise, is the tenth most expensive photograph, following its 2006 sale at Sotheby’s in New York for $2,928,000. A respectable enough price for a work whose maker wanted to make photography painting’s equal.
A look at the photographers who used their burgeoning skills to create a new sense of dignity
Allie Mae Burroughs (1936) by Walker Evans
Walker Evans was, as we explain in The Photography Book “one of photography’s outstanding artists”. By the 1930s he was a prominent figure in the New York cultural scene; Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever numbered among his friends. So why, when he was at the peak of his maturity as an artist, did he take a job as a photographer within a small governmental programme? Perhaps the answer lies in the artistic power photographers once believed lay within their medium.
Humanist photography is a term used to describe a particular type of mid-century photojournalism that lies somewhere between the painterly, honourable concerns of realism and the high-minded hopefulness of modernism.
Early practitioners in Europe, such as André Kertész Willy Ronis and the Magnum co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson, used newly developed Leica cameras in the 1920s and 30s – which removed the need for tripods or studio set-ups – to document the social foment on the avenues of the continent.
The Circus, Budapest, 1920 by André Kertész
Mastering the technical aspects of photography, and free to roam within an increasingly open society, these photographers celebrated and ennobled the common man and the simple street scene.
Away from the horrors of the trenches and the strictures of pre-war society, humanist photographers saw that their new medium might not only find beautiful pictures in plain places and faces, but, in showing the nobility of the common man, they might also engender a new sense of compassion and mutual understanding.
Walker Evans, Citizen in Downtown Havana (1933), Cuba
In Paris, this lyrical style of reportage suited the hopeful ambitions of the interwar period, yet in America the movement also found fertile ground, thanks in part to the centre-left politics of the New Deal, and also European-born immigrants such as the photographer and curator Edward Steichen, whose hugely ambitious Family of Man exhibition of 1955 sought to assert mankind’s goodness and unity.
Meudon, France, 1928 by André Kertész
The work Walker Evans and co. undertook with the depression-era Farm Security Commission, shows humanist photography at its most expressive and didactic.
The small band of photographers attached the FSC, which included Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks, formed part of a larger effort to improve the lives of poverty stricken rural folk. The FSA helped farmers buy land, and resettle them into more effective, larger agricultural projects. Evans and co were employed in part to document the poverty, but also to also engender empathy and sympathy in other Americans, who might otherwise not have cared about their fellow countrymen.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother (1936), Nipomo, California, USA
The scheme worked; Evans’ portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, alongside other images such as Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother, remain masterpieces of human dignity as well as symbols of depression-era America.
So why did humanist photography decline in the later decades of the 20th century? Partly because of political changes; after Vietnam and Watergate that hopeful sense of human progression simply lessened. There were also artistic reasons too. As Mark Durden explains in Photography Today, “from the 1970s onwards, documentary faced a concerted effort to displace its importance. As photography was taken up and used by Conceptual artists, its documentary form was often subject to parody and critique.”
You only have to look at the US post-modern artist Sherrie Levine’s re-photographing of Walker Evans’ FSA photos for her 1981 series, entitled After Walker Evans, to understand Durden’s point.
After Walker Evans: 4 (1981) by Sherrie Levine
Nevertheless, the humanist spirit does live on in many photographers, from Joel Meyerowitz’s beautiful street photography, to Stephen Shore’s Survivors in the Ukraine, wherein he captures the dignity of rural European holocaust survivors, through to the French photograffeur JR, whose monumental, pasted-up photos of today’s migrants and downtrodden women makes us care for people we might have otherwise overlooked.
Tzal Nusymovych, Korsun, Cherkaska District. Grom Survivors in Ukraine by Stephen Shore