Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Tate Etc

Out of the Light, Into the Shadows

The History of the Photogram

Raphael-Hefti-framed-Lycopodium-ii-UK_salts_12

Rafael Hefti, Lycopodium, 2011

 

A photogram is not a photograph, not really. Sure, it is usually discussed as a subset of photography, and it was born around the same time, from similar chemistry, but is practically and conceptually only remotely related. A photogram is no more a photograph than a photocopy, an X-ray or a digital scan. Photography typically uses lenses to project light onto film, and then onto paper, in order to render an objective representation of a scene or object. It changed the world because of its reproducibility, and because of its capacity for vivid mimesis. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seeds of Destruction

A History of Iconoclasm in British Art

Dead Christ (1500–20) Courtesy: The Mercers' Company

Dead Christ (1500–20)
Courtesy: The Mercers’ Company

In 1957, the artist Gustav Metzger mounted an exhibition of damaged art in King’s Lynn. ‘Treasures from East Anglian Churches’ was a selection of sacred artefacts that had been attacked during the period of iconoclasm between the English Reformation in the 1530s and the Commonwealth of 1649–60 when Britain, under the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, was effectively a republic. Metzger already knew plenty about annihilation. Born to Jewish parents in Nuremburg, he was evacuated via Kindertransport to England in 1939 at the age of twelve, just as Nazi Germany was engaging in genocide against its own people. His parents disappeared soon after. In the 1950s he was involved in activism, first with the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament and then as a founder of the Committee of 100. Later he made art born of material violence; nylon panels that he corroded with acid, and liquid crystal projections that melted and reformed under the heat of the projectors. He called it Auto-Destructive Art.

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On the Grotesque

Basil Wolverton, Heap, 1955
© The Wolverton Estate. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

The grotesque got its name by mistake. When, one day in fifteenth-century Rome, a young man fell into a hole in a hillside, he assumed he’d discovered a Roman grotto. He fetched a lantern and found wild frescoes over the grotto’s walls: half-human, half animal figures, with legs and arms transforming into curling vines or ornamental volutes. In fact, he had stumbled upon Nero’s buried Villa Aurea, the raised floor level giving the rooms a grotto-like appearance. Nevertheless, the term “grotteschi” stuck as a label for this newly discovered style that radically dissented from the classical restraint to which the Renaissance had hitherto adhered. Read the rest of this entry »

John Martin

AAAARGH!

‘The Big Five’ is what scientists call the earth’s major known extinction events, during each of which over half of the earth’s species were wiped out. The most recent was 65 million years ago. According to a survey conducted in 1998 by the American Museum of Natural History, seven out of ten biologists believe the world is now entering a sixth.

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