Last week I decided to escape the cold and dreary weather of Britain. It can be so depressing to look out each day on black clouds, heavy rain and suffer the inclement weather which rushes in from the Atlantic. Although I like being by the sea when I go away, I thought the water temperature even in the Mediterranean might not be quite bearable for somebody so delicate as moi, so I decided to go for a warm/hot city break which would afford me the chance to visit some excellent art galleries and so I headed for Madrid. I have flown to Madrid on a number of occasions but have always driven away from the capital’s airport on my way to other destinations so this was my first proper visit to the Spanish city. I had planned my “must see and must do” list before I went and had the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums on the list but in fact I came across another gem which I will tell you about in my next blog.
Today I want to talk you about an exhibition I went to see at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. I have to be honest with you and say that even when I was standing in line to pay my museum entrance fee I had no intention of paying extra to see their special exhibition entitled Hyperrealism 1967-2012. There were posters all around advertising the event with what looked like a photograph of four highly-polished VW Beetle cars (see above). I immediately, and wrongly, jumped to the conclusion that the exhibition was a one of modern photography which is not what I want to see in a museum of art. However thanks to my daughter, who loves modernity in art and who had accompanied me on this short holiday, I was dragged into the rooms which held this display.
I have to tell you I had never seen anything quite like it. This was not a display of photographs but a large exhibition of works of Hyperrealism art often referred to as Photorealism art. There are so many –isms in art. I thought I knew them all and in fact I have the book …isms , Understanding art, by Stephen Little, which discusses them all from Classicism to Sensationalism but even he had not touched on Hyperrealism. So what are Hyperrealism and Photorealism? The Oxford Dictionary of Art lists them under the name Superrealism and states that
“…it is an art form where the subjects are depicted with a minute and impersonal exactitude of detail…”
It appears that Photorealism is the accepted artistic term in German and English speaking countries whereas Hyperrealism is the preferred term for this form of art in countries speaking Romance languages. Whatever the term, this genre of art first emerged in the late 1960s when a group of artists in the USA began to paint objects and scenes from daily life with a high degree of realism, using photography as the basis for their works. The leading lights of the movement in those early days were Richard Estes, John Baeder, Robert Bechtle, Tom Blackwell, Chuck Close and Robert Cottingham. This new movement attained international recognition in 1972 when their art appeared in the German city of Kassel at its Documenta 5 exhibition in the city’s Neue Gallerie. The works of art at this exhibition were mostly by up-and-coming American artists. In a way their works were a protest against abstract art which was dominating the art scene and the intellectual world since the mid 1940’s. It was the era of the Abstract Expressionists, the Minimalists, the painters of Op Art and the Conceptual artists. The emergence of Photorealism or Hyperrealism in the late 60’s was like new art movements of the past, challenging current artistic practices and by doing so distancing themselves from what they considered to be the mainstream art genre of that time. The exhibition in Kassel caused an uproar. The art critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung edition of July 8th 1972 reviewed the exhibition and was vehemently ctitical of what he saw, saying:
“… These are decorative objects for the dining room, or some even for the bedroom produced following the latest doctrines, pedantry in place of genius and the results are the most pedantic decorative objects imaginable…”
A few months earlier another writer reviewed a Photorealism exhibition held in New York and wrote;
“…if there is an obscene art, then it is that selling itself as the latest movement of the avant garde…”
The article went even further with its condemnation of the rapidly growing interest of the public for this new art genre. The writer sought to bring shame on the buyers of this art by saying:
“…The buyers are snapping up this production-line Galatea as fast as its prolific Pygmalions can create her, dragging her home, like sailors with their inflatable dolls, for their aesthetic reassurance…”
The works of the Photorealists were painted with such intricate precision and with such meticulous detail that their finished paintings looked like photographs themselves. The critics of this genre maintained that Photorealism was not art but simply the virtuosity of a copyist whose main aim was an accurate mimicking of reality, which was simply producing a stereotyped image of it. The critics of this art even deemed it to be anti-intellectual.
The exhibition I went to see at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum consisted of sixty-six works by three generations of Hyperrealist artists and had been organised by the Institut für Kulturaustausch (German Cultural Exchange Institute. It was an exhibition which offered visitors an insight into Hyperrealism and the history of the movement. I have chosen two of my favourite works from this exhibition to feature in today’s blog. One work is by a Second Generation of Hyperrealists, Rod Penner, and the other by a young lady, born in London who is one of the new breed of Hyperrealists, Raphaella Spence.
The first work I have chosen is entitled House with Snow and was completed by Rod Penner in 1998 and is one of many he did which focused on the streets and single family homes in small towns in Texas. Rod Penner was born in Vancouver in 1965 and currently lives and works in the small mid-Texan town of Marble Falls. He attended Kwantlen College in Canada before receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1986 from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The work is a culmination of his visit to the location, photographing the scene, often using digital video stills. It measures 91cms x 137cms and depicts a small single-family home in winter. It is a truly remarkable work of art and I had to keep going up close to it to make sure it was not an actual photograph.
My second offering and probably my favourite is by a young British woman, Raphaella Spence. It is entitled Canal Grande and was completed in 2007. Raphaella was born in London in 1978 but she spent the first eight years of her life with her family in France. The family went back to London where she continued her schooling. At the age of twelve she was once again on her travels as the family relocated to Italy and went to school in Rome at the St. George’s British International School. Raphaella love of art and the beautiful Umbrian countryside led her towards the creation of Photorealist landscape works. In 2000 at the age of twenty-two she held her first solo exhibition in Italy which was well received and gained her public recognition. Three years later she held a solo exhibition of her work at the Bernarducci. Meisel.Gallery in New York and ever since her works have been in ever increasing demand for exhibitions. Many of her works are housed in galleries around the world both public and private and are often part of corporate collections. Her works bring new perspectives to the artistic style of Photorealism. She photographs her subjects with her 66-megapixel camera, and her cityscapes are often photographed as she flies over them in a helicopter. Once she has the photographs she transfers the images to canvas, pixel by pixel, and the result is a spectacular pin-sharp hyperrealist painting. I just could not believe the detail in her painting
I hope I have whetted your appetite to see this wonderful exhibition and look fiurther into the world of Hyperrealism or Photorealism. You have a chance to view the exhibition I went to see in Madrid as it is on tour. The dates are:
Painted Illusions: Hyperrealism 1967-2012,
Thyssen – Bornemisza Museum, Madrid,
April 8th to June 30th 2013
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England
November 20, 2013 – March 30, 2014