A person’s entire life represented by a single instant – the photographic portrait as a form of visual biography. He intentionally incorporated the personal environment, the work, and signs which revealed the intellectual background of those he photographed. With great sensitivity and care, he brought these aspects so strongly into the foreground that they became symbols and clues to the person’s character. Every one of his “environmental portraits” – as they were called by critics – of artists, creative professionals, scientists, intellectuals, athletes, and statesmen is a formally and conceptually balanced composition. With their POWERFUL metaphoric quality, THEY represent a cross-section of twentieth century culture.
Arnold Newman photographed numerous famous people in his empathetic visual language—Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinsky, Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, Marcel Duchamp, John F. Kennedy, David Hockney, Martha Graham, Andy Warhol— but hated the idea of celebrity when it was devoid of achievement. His portraits represent a search for exceptional individuals who were realizing their own ideas with great ability. He was interested in what, not who, people were. For this reason, the individual’s personal context is of crucial importance in his photographs; the austere studio photography of Richard Avedon or Irving Penn was never an option for Newman. His approach was oriented more towards the photojournalistic approaches of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Alfred Eisens- taedt. Each of his portraits is an artistic statement, not just a picture of the person portrayed. With this visual concept, Arnold Newman set high standards for artistic interpretation and aesthetic innovation starting in the late 1930s.
In Arnold Newman was a perfectionist in the application of this idea. His use of a large-format camera forced both him and his subjects to be calm and focused. In order to achieve the unique formal brilliance to which he aspired, he had to gain control over every aspect of the image. This also meant arranging and intentionally staging elements of the scene—and in some cases rearranging the setting altogether to capture every detail. Newman preferred natural light, but when he had to, added complex arrangements of artificial lightings to get the effect he desired.
Arnold Newman loved teaching, as many of his students attest. “Masterclass” shows us that there are still many lessons to be learned from this master. The exhibition, comprises 200 vintage black-and-white photographs from the oeuvre of the most influential portrait photographer of the twentieth century. The posthumous retrospective includes Arnold Newman’s most famous portraits but also many who have previously escaped attention, along with still lifes, architectural studies, early street photography, and revealing contact sheets that have never been shown before publicly.
The exhibition is structured in 9 sections: 1. searches, 2. choices, 3. habitats, 4. light lumen, 5. signatures, 6. weavings, 7. fronts, 8. geometries, 9. sensibilities
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