Select Page
By Eugenia Bertelè

The Shape of Light: 100 years of Photography and Abstract Art

The Shape of Light: 100 years of Photography and Abstract Art is now on view at Tate Modern until October 14th, 2018. This outstanding exhibition, which showcases more than 350 works by 100 artists, reveals intertwined stories between photography and abstract art. Spanning from the experiments of the early 20th century to the digital innovations of the 21st century, The Shape of Light explores the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.
Unfortunately, photography has been considered a lesser medium in the field of visual art. The prejudice that caused this separation resulted from an underlying suspicion that this new technology would disrupt the very egocentric realm of fine art. Of course, today we have established a different awareness regarding the position and role of photography in contemporary art; other art forms such as collage, installation, video, music, and performance also belong to this complex, stratified language.
Jackson Pollock - The Shape of Light

Jackson Pollock 1912-1956, Number 23, 1948. Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018

That being said, photographers have always been artists. The Shape of Light supports this idea by juxtaposing significant paintings and photographs from 1910 to the present day. German photographer, Marta Hoepffner, who was interested in the relation between abstract art and music, pays homage to Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, who believed painting should aspire to be as abstract as music. The Cubist paintings by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso hang beside Pierre Dubreuil’s photographs, and Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings are grouped with Otto Steinert’s Luminographs. A selection of Surrealist photographs that abstract the human body – including André Kertséz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles, and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges – are exhibited with a Juan Miró painting.
The exhibition also acknowledges the impact of The Museum of Modern Art’s 1960 photography exhibition, The Sense of Abstraction. Some original photographs in this pioneering exhibition – including works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind, and a series by Man Ray – have yet to be exhibited since the 60’s until now, at Tate Modern. While working in his studio in Paris, Man Ray created the Unconcerned Photographs, by swinging his Polaroid camera around by its strap. The research follows with the exploration of the relation between abstraction and photography through the Op and Kinetic Art from the 60ies to the Minimalism and Conceptualism of the 70ies. Tate Modern has unveiled remarkable new works by contemporary artists Maya Rochat, Daisuke Yokota and Antony Cairns. Created specifically for the exhibition, these diverse works demonstrate the remarkable scope of photography and abstraction today. Spread over 12 rooms, The Shape of Light explores the history of innovation, demonstrating how the darkroom and the studio are similar to the laboratory.
Pierre Dubreuil - The Shape of Light

Pierre Dubreuil 1872-1944, Interpretation Picasso: The Railway, c.1911. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper. Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne-Centre de création industrielle

An engaging exhibition that cultivates a deeper understanding about the relationship between photography and abstract art, The Shape of Light features remarkable works by Alvin Langdon Coburn, Josef Sudek, Constantin Brancusi, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Brassai, László Moholy-Nagy, Edward Steichen, Edward Steichen, Sigmar Polke, Stan Douglas, Paul Graham, Ellsworth Kelly, Edward Ruscha, Bridget Riley among many others. For more information link to Tate Modern