Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

Children in Another World: The Photographs of Arthur Tress

Beautifully surreal photographs by the American artist join the Getty Museum’s collection

Boy with Root Hands, New York, New York, 1971, Arthur Tress. Gelatin silver print, 10 1/16 x 10 3/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013.68.13. © Arthur Tress

I have long been fascinated by childhood dreaming, since kids have the ability to recount their dreams in vivid detail. In the 1995 science fantasy film The City of Lost Children, a demented scientist kidnaps children in order to steal their dreams because he is incapable of dreaming himself. He frightens the children in the process, and as a result they are only able to generate nightmares. It’s telling that an entire feature film was focused on the dreams of children.

Long before The City of Lost Children, artist Arthur Tress took surreal and, at times, unsettling photographs that feature kids in staged scenarios. The Getty Museum has acquired 66 such photographs by Tress, from his series The Dream Collector and Theater of the Mind.

Child Buried in Sand, Coney Island, 1968, Arthur Tress. Gelatin silver print, 2013.68.2. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. © Arthur Tress

Tress began his career in the 1960s creating “straight” street photographs, but soon branched out to explore the realm of the strange and grotesque. The majority of photographs in the acquisition represent the states of excitement, fear, and confusion experienced in childhood by placing children in the center of compositions that elicit a destabilized world.

Tress said in an artist’s statement, “the purpose of these dream photographs is to show how the child’s creative imagination is constantly transforming his existence into magical symbols for unexpressed states of feeling or being.” What I take this to mean is that while children sometimes aren’t able to adequately express their emotions or experiences in words, they can instead  express their inner lives through symbols and fantasies.

A particularly ambiguous image is Child Buried in Sand, Coney Island/Boy in Mickey Mouse Hat (1968), which features a boy half-buried in beach sand, wearing a cockeyed Mickey Mouse hat. Although the boy seems to be sleeping peacefully, the photograph leads to a variety of questions: how did he come to be buried in the sand, why is he alone, and what’s with the hat?

In Boy in Snow, NY, NY (1970), a child wearing a ski mask appears as a faceless creature with a gaping mouth. What is likely innocent fun in the snow is transformed through Tress’s vision.

Boy in Snow, NY, NY, about 1970, Arthur Tress. Gelatin silver print, 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013.68.26. © Arthur Tress

The image evokes Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s Romance of Ambrose Bierce #3 (1964), another photograph in the Getty Museum’s collection that turns playful images of children into something more sinister.

The newly acquired photographs join existing works in the Museum’s collection that address children and childhood, including photographs by Diane Arbus and Dora Maar. While they may not elicit sweet dreams, these photographs are windows into the fertile minds of the young.

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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.

      09/17/14

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