Gustave Courbet assaulted the French Art Academy's monopoly on tradition in the 1850s and '60s. He was larger-than-life both in stature and in self-promotion. He became the face of Realism, a new liberal art movement that preferred rustic scenes of real peasants and workers to idealized Greek gods and goddesses. Courbet's subject matter, political posturing, and increasing use of the palette knife rather than brush, made it clear that his canvases were done by a ruffian.
In 1788, the apocalyptic disasters prophesied in the biblical Revelation of St. John seemed somewhat distant to most Christians living in Britain. But with the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the onset of "the Terror" in France, that distance began to rapidly dissolve; almost immediately, people began to envision themselves as being in the very midst of St. John's disastrous vision. Self-prrococlaimed prophets began to prophesy, theologians attempted to link modern phenomena with specific symbols in the book of Revelation, and artists became once again interested in representing the apocalypse. From the Royal academician Benjamin West, to the caricaturist James Gillray, to the enigmatic William Blake, each of these artists created works inspired by the idea of apocalypse.
In 1947, historian Raphael A. Abromavitch compiled and reprinted over five hundred pre-Holocaust photographs in his New York publication The Vanished World: Jewish Cities, Jewish People. Among them was Old Road Maker in Ostroleka, Poland, an image of a solitary worker in the middle of an unfinished cobblestone path, by Warsaw-based artist and poet Alter Kacyzne. (Fig. 1) Organized around a close reading of the photograph that begins at the edges of the frame and spills into the center of the picture plane, this paper explores a history of loss that radiated outward from the small Polish village of Ostroleka to the shores of the United States.
On April 13, 1998, contemporary American-Hungarian artist Susan Silas [b. 1953] embarked on a twenty-two day, 225-mile long journey, retracing a 1945 death march from Helmbrechts, Germany to Prachatice, Czech Republic. Helmbrechts was the site of an all-women's work camp, founded in the summer 1944 and located close to Germany border with the former Czechoslovakia. Camp guards evacuated all of the approximately 600 prisoners in April 1945. The Jews and their guards had to travel by foot all the way to Prachatice; the non-Jewish prisoners were left behind after seven days. Some ninety-five women died on the way, most from starvation and exhaustion, others from being shot. Today the site of the former Helmbrechts camp is a housing development.
Anselm Kiefer's artistic practice has long been fraught with ambivalence: in his infamous Occupations series completed in 1969, the artist photographed both his public performances of the Sig Heil salute in front of historical monuments in Switzerland, France, and Italy, as well as his private rehearsal of the Nazi gesture, standing atop a table in his Dusseldorf studio. When questioned regarding his motives for creating the Occupations, Kiefer responded, "I don't identify with Nero or Hitler, but I have to reenact what they did just a little bit in order to understand the madness."
In 2001, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami exploded onto the Western art scene with "Superflat," an exhibition of Japanese art and culture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Murakami's work, a deft blend of Japanese cartoon culture and Western Pop Art strategies, was extremely well received by the general public and art critics alike. Just ten years after his debut on the American art scene, Murakami is one of the best-known and commercially successful artists working today.
This paper considers the relationship between two objects: a photograph and a painting. I will examine this relationship in light of the still life tradition, linking Gerhard Richter's painting Tote to his common object paintings, which he developed in the 1960s, and to his vanitas of the 1980s. My reading of the still life as a self-consciously constructed image that details the quotidian will illuminate how the relationship between the photograph and the painting exhibits a flatness, an anti-heroic matter-of-factness that points not only to grief and the failure of ideology, but also to the commonness of catastrophe, the reality and emptiness of death.
In 2006 the Metropolitan Museum of Art invited contemporary African-American artist Kara Walker (b. 1969) to "mine" the museum's collection and create an exhibition. Walker's "mining" coincided with the flood of news footage related to Hurricane Katrina. Walker's exhibit-cum-coffee table book, After the Deluge combines Walker's signature cut-paper silhouettes, stream of consciousness text pieces, and drawings with an assortment of European and American paintings dealing with floods and natural disasters from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. The juxtaposition of her own contemporary pieces with historical works demonstrated Walker's objective to challenge the way in which the suffering of Blacks during natural and political catastrophes was being presented as a novel newsworthy subject during and after Hurricane Katrina.