From the 1890s to his death in 1932, Blossfeldt produced a corpus of photographic plant portraits that is both extensive and unique and whose style and artistic approach paved the way for modern fine art photography. On show, the acquisition of 75 original prints from the collection of Ann and Jurgen Wilde.
With the support of the Kulturstiftung der Länder and the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Sammlung Moderne Kunst has managed to acquire 75 original photographic prints by the Berlin photographer and teacher Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932).
Blossfeldt‘s photographic works now rank as one of the seminal incunabula in the history of 20th-century photography. From the 1890s to his death in 1932, Blossfeldt produced a corpus of photographic plant portraits that is both extensive and unique and whose style and artistic approach paved the way for modern fine art photography.
Karl Blossfeldt was born in 1865 in Schielo, in the Harz region of Germany, and trained to become a sculpture caster and modeller. His training culminated in his studies at the Royal School of Applied Arts in Berlin. It was here that he met the artist and reformer Moritz Meurer, who was instrumental in shaping his future work. Meurer advocated the adoption of a scientifically grounded study of natural history into the curriculum at German art schools and developed a specific teaching plan for this purpose. Meurer’s reforms revolved around the idea that all artistic forms bear analogies to natural ones. Through the precise study of natural objects – preferably plants – students would acquire knowledge of the laws of nature that formed them, which could, in turn, be transferred to their artistic designs. Following Meurer’s recommendation, the study of plants became an integral component in art studies at the turn of the century. In 1898 he managed to help Karl Blossfeldt, then his assistant, to find a position at the teaching institution in Berlin where he would subsequently work until his retirement in 1930.
To provide his students with the necessary visual material for his lessons in ‘modelling after living plants’, Blossfeldt not only used living and dried plants, but also made extensive use of photographic reproductions. In creating his photographs he developed an unvarying mode of presentation that was utterly his own. He would isolate specific plant details against a neutral background and significantly enlarge the image to expose the organisms’ body plan and formal variety. In 1926 Blossfeldt presented his photographic works to a wider audience for the first time, in the renowned Galerie Nierendorf in Berlin. This was followed two years later, in 1928, by his ground-breaking publication Urformen der Kunst, which appeared in several editions and languages and is known in English as Art Forms in Nature.
Although Blossfeldt was not a trained photographer, modern photographers and critics of his day recognized the radical innovativeness of his works and declared him one of their progenitors. Blossfeldt’s objective, documentary style, the precision of his technique, his choice of everyday subjects and his seemingly scientific, cerebral approach were all in keeping with a vision of photography whose artistic understanding grew from a means of expression inherent to the medium itself and was not borrowed from painting or drawing. Artists of the avant-garde, such as László Moholy-Nagy, revered art critics, such as Franz Roh, and contemporary philosophers, such as Walter Benjamin, all praised Blossfeldt‘s work, and their formal appreciation has continued over the decades right up to Bernd and Hilla Becher, who make explicit reference to Blossfeldt in their work.
As far as is known, there are only two extensive collections of Blossfeldt’s works in existence: one held at the Karl Blossfeldt Archive, founded by Ann and Jürgen Wilde, which became part of the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation at the Pinakothek der Moderne here in Munich in 2010. The other is held at what is today known as the Berlin University of the Arts, the school where Blossfeldt taught till 1930.
With the acquisition of 75 exquisite original prints from the collection of Ann and Jürgen Wilde, the Sammlung Moderne Kunst has received a unique selection of works of outstanding quality that represents Blossfeldt’s œuvre in concentrated form. Enriched by the Karl Blossfeldt Archive, which not only comprises additional original prints, but also glass negatives, contact prints and diverse source material on his life and work, one of the most important archives dedicated to a single photographer of the 20th century has now been merged in Munich.
The monograph Karl Blossfeldt. Fotografien is being released as part of the Patrimonia series, published by the Kulturstiftung der Länder, in conjunction with the Bayerische Staatgemäldesammlungen. The 104-page publication features 30 full-page illustrations, as well as texts by Georges Bataille and Walter Benjamin and an introduction by Inka Graeve Ingelmann. Available (in German only), priced € 19, due for release in late September 2012.
Dr. Inka Graeve Ingelmann
Director: Sammlung Fotografie und Neue Medien
Image: Phyllitis scolopendrium, hart's tongue fern magnified 6 times before 1928 29.8 x 23.7 cm Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. Pinakothek der Moderne, München. Sammlung Ann und Jürgen Wilde. Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Sammlung Moderne Kunst
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Marking the occasion, a ceremony will be held in the rotunda of the Pinakothek der Moderne, attended by the Bavarian State Minister of Sciences, Research and the Arts, Wolfgang Heubisch. The ceremony will take place at 7.00 p.m. on 9 October 2012.
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