Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography And Abstract Art

LONDON—A major new exhibition at Tate Modern will reveal the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art will be the first show of this scale to explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction, from the early experiments of the 1910s to the digital innovations of the 21st century. Featuring over 300 works by more than 100 artists, the exhibition will explore the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.

Barbara Kasten Photogenic Painting, Untitled 1974
Barbara Kasten Photogenic Painting, Untitled 1974. © Courtesy of the artist Barbara Kasten

Shape of Light will place moments of radical innovation in photography within the wider context of abstract art, such as Alvin Langdon Coburn’s pioneering ‘vortographs’ from 1917. This relationship between media will be explored through the juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers, such as cubist works by George Braque and Pierre Dubreuil or the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Otto Steinert’s ‘luminograms’. Abstractions from the human body associated with surrealism will include André Kertesz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, exhibited together with a major painting by Joan Miró. Elsewhere the focus will be on artists whose practice spans diverse media, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.

James Welling - ZEPES 1986
James Welling, ZEPES 1986. © Courtesy of the artist James Welling

The exhibition will also acknowledge the impact of MoMA’s landmark photography exhibition of 1960, The Sense of Abstraction. Installation photographs of this pioneering show will be displayed with some of the works originally featured in the exhibition, including important works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since the MoMA show, 58 years ago.

Otto Steinert, Luminogramm II, X57556
Otto Steinert, Luminogramm II, X57556. © Courtesy of the artist Otto Steinert

The connections between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting will be examined, with rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from the 1960s, featuring striking paintings by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neussis and Gottfried Jaeger. Rooms will also be dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition will culminate in a series of new works by contemporary artists, Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, exploring photography and abstraction today.

CO7 - Datsuke Yokota - Untitled. from Abstracts series, 2014 X68610
Datsuke Yokota, Untitled. from Abstracts series, 2014 X68610. © Courtesy of the artist Datsuke Yokota

Shape of Light is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography),Tate Modern and Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais with Shoair Mavlian and Sarah Allen, Assistant Curators, Tate Modern. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

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