Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

A New Look at Ray K. Metzker

Chicago / Ray K. Metzker

Chicago, negative, 1958; printed later, Ray K. Metzker. Gelatin silver print, 5 3/4 x 8 3/4 in. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2009.6.15. © Ray K. Metzker

Ray K. Metzker is one of the most innovative photographers of the last half century, though he is not as well known as some of his contemporaries. The new exhibition The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design, organized with the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, sets out to change that. Featuring nearly 200 photographs, the show introduces us to five decades of Metzker’s career, from his beginnings at Chicago’s Institute of Design (ID) in the ‘50s to his recent work.

The exhibition places Metzker (born 1931) in context, presenting photographs by his mentors Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, plus other ID instructors such as György Kepes, Arthur Siegel, Frederick Sommer, and Art Sinsabaugh, and fellow ID students Kenneth Josephson, Joseph Sterling, Joseph Jachna, and Charles Swedlund.

“New Bauhaus” was the original name of the ID, which opened in the fall of 1937 with avant-garde artist and educator László Moholy-Nagy—a key figure of the original Bauhaus in Germany—at the helm. Just like the Bauhaus, the school’s program integrated art, architecture, and design, with photography an integral component of the curriculum.

Inspired by the ID’s atmosphere of inventiveness and investigation, Metzker began creating his luminous black-and-white photographs of Chicago as a graduate student in the late 1950s. His work expanded to include urban cityscapes, studies of nature (particularly trees), and the more experimental practice of printing adjacent or non-adjacent films of frame as a single image, which he called Couplets and Double Frames. His most ambitious and complex works are Composites, incorporating entire rolls of film into grids of photographs that deliver crisp, decorative passages when viewed up close and intricate, rhythmic patterns of light and dark when viewed from a distance. Metzker’s preference for unusual angles and deep contrasts is not only formally mesmerizing but also deeply evocative, suggesting the vulnerability and transience of all life.

Feste di Foglie: Italy / Ray K. Metzker

Feste di Foglie: Italy, Ray K. Metzker, 1985. Gelatin silver print, 13 5/8 x 13 3/8 in. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2009.6.57. © Ray K. Metzker

Couplets: Atlantic City / Ray K. Metzker

Couplets: Atlantic City, negative 1969; print 1984, Ray K. Metzker. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 6 1/8 in. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2009.6.41. © Ray K. Metzker

Metzker’s work is on view at the Center for Photographs through February 24. The exhibition is complemented by a range of programs, including a free lecture this Thursday by Keith Davis of the Nelson-Atkins, author of the new book accompanying the exhibition.

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit idiosyncratic. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.


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