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Beyond Words

Met Percent: Week Twenty-Six [by Alec Bernstein]

Faux tographe...”

4DC88BD6-B2EB-4182-BF0D-8ABA13203566Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (detail), Leonardo da Vinci, Musée du Louvre, 1510
The Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing Right, Leonardo da Vinci, 1510
Trilby Clark from Movie Stars Exhibit Cards series, 1920

NFT Art, Rick Carter, OMGDrops, 2021. 

The Met Museum galleries of Drawings and Prints are very near the Photography galleries. Three “Special Exhibition Galleries” (691, 692, and 693) display all three media. Categorization seems blurry, fluid or tentative.

We forget that painting on canvas was a radical change from painting on wood (see Leonardo’s chapter “how to paint on canvas”). As radical was the exhibition of drawings in museums and galleries. Photography was also inherently problematic. 

The Trilby Clark Card (of the once-renowned 1920s actor) is of course both a “photograph” and a “print” but is cataloged in the department of Drawings and Prints with Leonardo’s Head of the Virgin. Looking back on examples from the Met’s Prints online, I notice a surprising number are printed photographs. The Met Photography Department opened in 1928, but the mass-produced printed photographs remain in Drawings and Prints (founded 1916). What prompted the Met to keep printed photos in Prints? Is mass production an artistic marvel more marvelous than a single photo? Are printed photographs not photographic prints?

Oscar-winning art director Rick Carter’s NFT (Non Fungible Token, far right above) is a good example of what awaits the Met’s future Acquisitions Department. Initially the NFT was intended to protect the rights of image originators. It has gone full spec-capitalism and is presently entangled in our crypto-currency market dynamics. The data needs no physical printing of any kind.

But categorization is a minor skirmish in the larger “art / photography” battles.

Jean Renoir often quoted Edgar Degas’ comment to the photographer Nadar: “Faux peintre! faux artiste! faux. . . tographe!” (False painter! false artist! false-tographer!) (1873-74). 

In a letter to Alfred Stieglitz (1922), Marcel Duchamp wrote, "You know exactly how I feel about photography. I would like to see it make people despise painting until something else will make photography unbearable.”

In predictable over-simplifications, mainstream media regularly “exposes” pairs of “boundaries”: Weege—fine art and murder; Richard Avedon—art and fashion; Robert Mapplethorpe—art and pornography; Richard Prince—art and appropriation; Cindy Sherman—art and “post-everything”. 

George Bernard Shaw was an early experimental photographer, commenting on the field with his usual astuteness, “I would willingly exchange every single painting of Christ for one snapshot”.


Self-Portrait (detail), GB Shaw, c1907, Society of Authors, the National Trust and the London School of Economics.


Weltschmerz und Zeitgeist


Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., Diane Arbus, 1962. Top, print. Bottom: proof sheet.

Everyone I have ever known has seen me in this pose. I use it to this day. It seems also always to suggest a caption, a Komposita (a German compound term) . . . from Zietgeist to Weltschmerz to the recently coined German Coronaangst terms, like Maskentrottel (mask idiot) and Impfneid (envy of those who have been vaccinated).

For a while, I had a copy of the proof sheet hanging in the dining room. I called it Boygrenadeparken. Then driving to the office, an Ausländer working for a German corporation, I would mull over multisyllabic terms to prepare for the day. E.g., how to maintain das Fingerspitzengefühl (the fingertip feeling — tactfulness, intuitive flair or instinct) while having das Fernweh (distance pain — a longing for a place that isn’t where you are right now).

Somehow I find the idea of the Komposita apt for Arbus: Bittersweet? Glee-gloom? Mashed-up-solitude? And the happy-kinder on the proof? Just too long a shoot. . .


Happy Birthdays, Mr. Hockney


Top left: David Hockney working with his Polaroid, photograph by David Hockney Foundation, n.d.
Top right: Pearlblossom Hwy., 1118th April 1986, #2, David Hockney, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1986
Bottom: Hockney at the BMW Design Studio, Newbury Park, CA, photographs by BMW, 1995.

I saw Hockney lecture on his Polaroids in the 1970s. He spoke eloquently on the time his montage method gave him to stay with a work, compared to the speed of a single photograph. It reminded me of Ansel Adams: “If photography were difficult in the true sense of the term — meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching — there would be a vast improvement in total output.” (1943).

In 1995, Hockney was commissioned* to do an “art car” for BMW and assigned a BMW 850 CSi. The car, unfortunately, did not fit in his studio elevator, so he drove up to evaluate our design facilities. I was the designer assigned to support him, and I waited at the reception desk to give him a tour. He carried his dachshunds, one under each arm, and saw among the business cards one for “Frisbee, Corporate Dog.” He asked if it was true that we had a corporate dog.”Yes, he is in the accounting department.” “O.K. I don’t need to see anything else. This place will be fine.” He brought his long brush collection and spent two and a half days painting in and outside the studio.

One morning while viewing the car, we chatted over a cigarette break. He had heard on the radio that OJ Simpson received 7,000 birthday cards in jail. This was how I discovered that I share a birthday with both David Hockney and OJ Simpson. 

I remember his long brush work . . . And his words, “A line has time in it.”

*BMW gave Hockney his own 850 CSi, complete with a special custom seat raised up for his little dogs to see out of the window.


Marilyn @ The Met & The Money

31D49D6E-3C97-4650-9824-826807824454Top left: Marilyn Monroe on the Set of "The Misfits": Leaning Out of Second Floor Window of Frame House, Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1960.  
Top right: Detail, Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1960.  
Top center: Marilyn Monroe and John Huston on the Set of "The Misfits": At the Craps Table, Eve Arnold, 1960.  

Bottom left: Andy Warhol’s cropping of: Niagara, Eugene Korman, 20th Century Fox, The University of Michigan Museums of Art and Archaeology, 1953
Bottom center: From Marilyn, Andy Warhol, 1967
Bottom center insert: Untitled (self-portrait, as Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean), Cindy Sherman, 1982.  
Bottom right: Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City (Sad Marilyn), Richard Avedon, 1957.

The only Eve Arnold listed at the Met online is not shown. It is described as one of Arnold’s series of gambling table shots (above) on the set of “The Misfits”. The same holds for the Cartier-Bresson: another Met-owned image — catalogued, but not shown online.

The Eugene Korman publicity shot of Marilyn is only in the Met by way of the 51 prints of Warhol’s From Marilyn. While the Museum of Modern Art claims, “Richard Avedon was fiercely protective of Marilyn’s memory”, perhaps Cindy Sherman was not as concerned. 

These are all the listings of a search for Marilyn at the Met online. In or out of the Met’s collections, scores of photographers did “something” to or for Marilyn and her image, one of the most reproduced faces in photography. Lee Strasberg’s second wife Anna Mizrahi inherited the bulk of the Monroe estate which she sold to Authentic Brands Group for an estimated $20-30 million in 2011. The Warhol Marilyns go up and down, but in the millions. The Sherman fetched $25,000 at Christies in 2016. The Eve Arnold estate sells her Marilyn prints at £30.

“I would prefer photography to be a folk art – cheap and available to everybody, rather than elevated to mandarin proportions created through an artificial scarcity.” — Eve Arnold (, prints shipped worldwide).

“The new art is really a business. . . We want to sell shares of our company on the Wall Street stock market. . . I’m a commercial person, I’ve got a lot of mouths to feed. I’ve gotta bring home the bacon.”— Andy Warhol, 1969.


Nice Horizons (pause)


Top left: Boden Sea, Utwill, Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1993
Top right: Coral Sea, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1983
Center: Untitled, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, 1960s.
Bottom: Cloud, Mexico, Edward Weston, 1926

“Hamm: And the horizon? Nothing on the horizon?  
Clov: (Lowering the telescope, turning towards Hamm, exasperated): What in God's name would there be on the horizon? (Pause.)” — Samuel Beckett, Endgame, 1957.

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