Friday, August 15, 2008

Two Books: Otto Steinert, Parisian Forms and Toni Schneiders, Fotographie/Photography

JTF (just the facts): Otto Steinert, Parisian Forms, published in 2008, in conjunction with an exhbition at the Museum Folkwang, Essen. 104 pages. In English. Toni Schneiders, Fotographie/Photography, published in 2008, in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum Bad Arolsen. 208 pages. In English and German.

Comments/Context: We have been trying to get educated about 1950s German photography for the past year or two, trying to figure out where it fits in the history of photography in general, and where to add representative examples to the city/industrial genre of our collection more particularly. There really haven't been too many good monographs available in English on these artists, so it was great to see these two get published recently. They are well worth adding to your library.
Here's what we know about 1950s German photography, in short form. After the second World War, there seems to have been a general rejection of the Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, which had been the prevailing photographic mind set of the 1920s and 1930s. The photographers wanted to get back to a more humanized, individualistic approach, in contrast to the colder, more objective viewpoint that had dominated the previous decades. A group of photographers, calling themselves the Fotoform, started to take German photography in this new direction. The founding members of this group were Toni Schneiders, Otto Steinert, Peter Keetman, Ludwig Windstosser, Siegfried Lauterwasser, and Wolfgang Reisewitz (Heinz Hajek-Halke would also join later). This group was the genesis of a movement, called Subjektive Fotographie or Subjective Photography, which encapsulated the ideas of these artists, and tried to offer a more moderate form of moderninsm.
What we have found really interesting is to place these artists and their work in the context of what was going on in American photography, and in the art world more generally. What we have found startling is to put the German work next to the work of Callahan and Siskind, and then again with the pillars of Abstract Expressionism, all of which who were working in the late 40s/early 50s. Try this combo:

(Harry Callahan, Untitled Light Study, 1946; Willem De Kooning, Painting, 1949; Otto Steinert, Luminogram, 1952).
Or this group:

(Barnett Newman, Onement III, 1949; Toni Scheniders, Signale, 1951; Aaron Siskind, Kentucky 15, 1951.)
This interaction, and reusing of similar forms and ideas, is worth exploring some more we think. How much contact did all these folks have? Or did they evolve separately from differening roots? Someone out there should do an exhibition on this, or a doctoral dissertation...
These two monographs provide broad sets of the work of Steinert and Schneiders, and should be considered Essential Reference, mostly due to the lack of excellent books on these artists in English.

Collector's POV: Vintage work by these artists, and the rest of the Fotoform group, is remarkably affordable in our opinion. Great pieces can still be had in the $3000-10000 range, with superlative examples going somewhat higher. While you can't find this work at Sotheby's and Christie's much if at all, we have found the work to be consistely available from the leading German auction houses (Villa Grisebach, Van Ham, Lempertz). On the gallery front, Kicken Berlin is the dominant player in this area in our view, with significant expertise and inventory. I hope they'll comment on this post if I've missed anything important about this group or grossly misstated the facts in any way.
In general, if you are a collector with interest in Callahan and Siskind, Steinert and Schneiders are artists you should take the time to explore more fully.

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