LOS ANGELES – For most people, a photograph is fairly straightforward – an image on a piece of paper with four straight edges and four corners. But for some photographers, paper is not merely the end result of developing a photograph – it is a material that can be activated in a number of ways. Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography, on view February 27-May 27, 2018, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, looks at the work of six contemporary artists who expand the role of paper in photography. Many of the works in the exhibition have been borrowed from Los Angeles-based collectors, institutions, or galleries, while others are from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection.
“Within the Getty’s very extensive collection of photographs from the birth of the medium to the present day, are a number of works that blur the line between photography and other mediums,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Cutting and otherwise manipulating the printed photograph, artists from the first half of the twentieth century on have created works in which the cutting, shaping and combining of images take the medium in radically new directions. Exhibitions like this provide a context and historical perspective on the experimentations of many contemporary photographers today.”
The exhibition includes an exploration of photographers’ long-standing interest in the way paper can convey something beyond its physical presence. Spanning the years 1926 to 1967, works by artists like Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002), Alexander Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956), and Ei-Q (born Sugita Hideo, Japanese, 1911-1960) feature cut-paper abstractions and figures modeled from paper that have been photographed. For example, Rodchenko’s photograph Giraffe (1926-27) is a playful arrangement of figures modeled from paper that he created to illustrate a book of children’s poems called Samozveri (Auto-animals). The curiosity of these artists set the stage for more daring contemporary experimentation.
The contemporary works on view focus on two themes, the first of which features artists who create paper models with images gleaned from current events, the internet, or books and magazines for the express purpose of photographing them. Daniel Gordon (American, born 1980) culls images from the internet, then cuts, tears, pastes, and assembles the printouts into three-dimensional sculptures, as in Clementines (2011), in which printouts are arranged to resemble and reference deeply saturated still-lifes by Picasso, Matisse, or Cezanne. By printing digital images, assembling them to resemble a sculptural object, photographing that object with a large format camera, then digitally enhancing it, Gordon walks the line between analog and digital photography.
Matt Lipps (American, born 1975) inserts existing images into new contexts that extend their potential meaning. The works on view appropriate photographs reproduced in publications associated with both high and low culture to comment on how images both reflect and shape our knowledge and experience. After selecting his images, Lipps arranges them into layered collages or models, using light and shadow to transform the images into a cultural tableau that he then photographs. His photographs are printed at a scale much larger than the original reproductions.
Thomas Demand (German, born 1964) is known for his large-scale photographs of meticulously constructed, life-size re-creations of architectural spaces and natural environments, including Landscape from 2013. During his year as an artist in residence at the Getty Research Institute (2011-12), Demand departed from this practice and began photographing architectural models, most notably those of John Lautner. A triptych based on the model for Lautner’s design for an office building in Century City, California, will be on view.
The exhibition also includes examples of photographs that are cut, incised, layered, or folded to introduce tactile, three-dimensional elements into what is usually thought of as a two-dimensional art form. Soo Kim (American, born South Korea, 1965) employs the techniques of cutting and layering to create areas of absence or disruption that imbue her images with dimensionality, as well as with the passage of time. Travel to distant locations has resulted in discrete bodies of work that reveal Kim’s deep interest in architectural structures. Works made in Reykjavik, Taipei, and Panama City will be on view.
Christopher Russell’s (America, born 1974) work confronts photomechanical reproduction with imperfect work by his own hand. Often using cheap lenses, he creates enigmatic photographs that are intentionally out of focus or shot directly into the sun. Using razor blades, Xacto knives and other implements, he disrupts the surface by scratching, scraping, or gouging to reveal the white core of the paper. Some pieces, like Explosion #31 (2014), show a series of controlled marks that result in intricate patterns resembling wallpaper, while Budget Decadence (2008) displays the violence Russell inflicts on the paper with a meat cleaver.
Starting with simple materials and rules, Christiane Feser (German, born 1977) creates “photo objects” that operate in a middle ground between photography and sculpture. After cutting, folding, and layering paper into abstract compositions, Feser carefully lights each construction, often using flash, photographs it with a high-resolution digital camera, and makes a print on paper similar to that used in the construction. In Partition 31 (2015), Feser uses folded pieces of paper that appear as a series of multi-sized cubes, but are actually a sophisticated visual puzzle that requires careful viewing from multiple angles.
“The works in this exhibition demonstrate a variety of approaches used by artists to transform paper into objects with greater sculptural presence,” says Virginia Heckert, curator of the exhibition and head of the Department of Photographs at the Getty Museum. “Photography may be the starting point, with camera-made images altered by acts of cutting and modeling to introduce layered narratives and the passage of time, or it may put the finishing touch on a collage or construction that has been carefully conceived based on existing images. This toggling back and forth between two and three dimensions and between existing and constructed images reminds us of the magical transformation that occurs in every photograph.”
Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography is on view February 27-May 27, 2018, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition is curated by Virginia Heckert, head of the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs. On view concurrently in the Center for Photographs will be the exhibition Paper Promises: Early American Photography.