Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: Arnold Newman: Masterclass at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

While some of Arnold Newman's images are very well known--including a few of the most recognizable photographic portraits of the 20th Century--my guess is the vast majority of people would be unable to tell you the name of the photographer behind that famous portrait of Stravinsky at the piano, the famous Picasso portrait with the sitter's hand on his face, the famous Salvatore Dali portrait with the hanging wire, the famous portrait of Yasser Arafat.... The images are instantly familiar, the name of the man who created them less so. It's therefore a treat to see so many of Newman's photographs--most but not all portraits--on display at one time, nearly 200 prints in all, in the first posthumous retrospective of his work. Even those who think themselves very familiar with Arnold Newman are likely to find a lot to look at here.

"Masterclass" is an apt subtitle for the show now on at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum: with only a few exceptions, each of the images on display is an object lesson in the art of photography--more specifically, in the art of composition. Newman had an uncanny ability to capture what was essential about the sitter and his or her environment and to see physical manifestations of the connections between the two. There is something wonderfully abstract existing simultaneously with the projected presence of the sitter in the portraits and the abstract images seem to project something alive beyond their formal elements.

Go. Drink the photographs in one by one. Learn from the placement of compositional elements in space--the collage-like effect of some of the images (notably the Greorge Grosz portrait, above left), the shapes and their echoes so carefully arranged in others (Jean Arp, Yasuo Kuniyoshi--Kuniyoshi at the top of the page), the careful attention to cropping in all. Almost no one did it better. Arnold Newman: Masterclass is on view through February 1, 2015 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, at 736 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (415-655-7800).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails