Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection

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Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection


The Guggenheim Museum Explores One Of Photography's Most Enduring And Telling Subjects


Exhibition: Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection
Dates: Opens Friday, June 4, 2004
Press Preview: Thursday, June 3, 10 AM–1 PM


NEW YORK, NY—March 2004—Images of the human hand have been a primary source of visual inspiration for photographers since the advent of the medium, whether depicted literally, in the context of portraiture, or figuratively, in terms of the rhetoric of gesture and conceptual art. The Guggenheim explores this phenomenon from June 4 through September 8, 2004 in the exhibition Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection; the presentation is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.


Speaking with Hands spans the history of photography from a photogenic drawing negative made in 1840 by William Henry Fox Talbot to serial Polaroids made in 2002 by Cornelia Parker, and encompasses images produced in the practice of science and journalism as well as the fine arts. The Buhl Collection includes examples of the various forms the medium has taken over the years from daguerreotypes and albumen prints to contemporary light boxes.


Nadar, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alexander Rodchenko, Man Ray, Weegee, Irving Penn, Mel Bochner, Vito Acconci, Larry Clark, Gordon Parks, Marc Riboud, Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans, Maurizio Cattelan, and Thomas Struth are among more than 150 photographers and artists represented in the more than 170 objects on view. All the works are drawn from the extensive private collection of New York-based collector Henry M. Buhl.


The exhibition makes the case that photography's easy ability to capture the fragment, the detail, and ephemeral movements encouraged the representation of the hand from the inception of the medium. In the show, works are grouped into a number of historically based categories as well as in thematic sections that, transcending chronology, comprise mini-exhibitions within the whole. There is a strong component of contemporary art that uses photography.


Henry M. Buhl was inspired to begin his collecting after purchasing Alfred Stieglitz's iconic photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe's hands. This first acquisition, entitled Hands with Thimble (1920), is a centerpiece of a section devoted to portraiture, which also includes images by Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others. Many of these "portraits" function as metonymic representations of a whole person, purporting to reveal, just through hands, the nature of a sitter's celebrity or profession, gender, age, or ethnicity.

The expressive quality of hands is captured in many photographs in The Buhl Collection. One room in the exhibition, which spans five galleries, will be largely devoted to gesture, whether realized in the ordinary gesticulations of daily life or in the heightened rhetoric of political speechifying and such theatrical conventions as pantomime. Among those represented in this section are the photojournalists Robert Capa and Elliott Erwitt and the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Highlighted nearby will be works from the 1920s to the 1950s, when hands often appeared in fragmented or fetishized form in photograms and photomontages by such artists as Herbert Bayer, André Kertész, El Lissitzky, and László Moholy-Nagy. Many of these pieces were created within the context of, or influenced by, avant-garde artistic movements, including Constructivism, Surrealism, and the Bauhaus.

Two of the Guggenheim's Annex galleries will be devoted to the art of the last twenty-five years, which comprises a large part of The Buhl Collection. Most contemporary works are conceptually oriented and distinct from earlier photographs in their large scale and use of color. A number of the works represent a period in the 1970s when many conceptual artists employed photography to document their bodies in their environment. Often the hand was used as a unit of measure and a device to locate the artist in relation to the creation of the piece. Other photographs on view, created later, reflect an appetite for risk taking and the grotesque as artists began to incorporate performance gestures into the representation of the body (usually their own). A second theme traced in this section of the show concerns the interest, dating from the 1980s, in the visual representation of language. These pieces, which appropriate media representations of hand gestures or juxtapose photographic images and texts, form a prelude to conceptually oriented work of the 1990s. Among the artists whose work is featured in this culminating section are Chuck Close, Barbara Kruger, Gregory Crewdson, Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Sarah Charlesworth, Paul McCarthy, Vik Muniz, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Saville and Glen Luchford, Shirin Neshat, Gabriel Orozco, and Jeff Wall.

Speaking with Hands is organized by Jennifer Blessing, Project Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue entitled Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection, in which Blessing explores the nature of collecting photographs, and hands as a uniquely photographic theme; Kirsten A. Hoving traces the prevalence of hand imagery in Surrealist photography and prose; and Ralph Rugoff finds a number of uncanny relationships in contemporary artworks employing photography to depict hands. The comprehensive publication includes entries on all the artists and works in the exhibition. Designed by Bethany Johns, the catalogue is published by the Guggenheim Museum and distributed by D.A.P. ($65 hardcover; $45 softcover).

Henry M. Buhl
Henry Mendelssohn Buhl is a noted philanthropist, social activist, and collector who for the last fifteen years has lived in the SoHo district of New York. He moved to SoHo to become a photographer after a thirty-year career as an investment broker and mutual funds manager.

Buhl is perhaps best known for founding one of the nation's most successful job training and job placement programs, the SoHo Partnership. Through the Partnership, homeless men and women living in city shelters perform such community services as cleaning streets, caring for trees, and removing snow and ice, in addition to attending weekly life skill and job training classes. For more than ten years the Partnership has returned individuals to the workforce, and its success has spawned the creation of similar programs in other New York neighborhoods such as Tribeca, as well as in other cities in the U.S. and abroad. Although more than a thousand SoHo residents and businesses now contribute annually to the Partnership, Buhl continues to serve as its leading patron and guiding light.

Henry M. Buhl is active in a number of other arts and community organizations. He heads The Buhl Foundation, which supports scholarship in the arts and human services and awards a biennial grant for excellence in photography. He is a member and past chair of the Guggenheim Museum's Photography Committee; a member of the Board of Trustees of Metropolitan College of New York in New York City; a director of FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform); and a cofounder of the newly created Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License. Until recently, he also served on the boards of the Brooks School, North Andover, Massachusetts, and the Museum of African Art, New York.

Education Programs
The following programs are presented in conjunction with the exhibition Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection

Photophilia: Collecting Photographs, Tuesday, June 22 at 6:30 PM
Photography is ubiquitous in our daily lives, from the personal snapshots we collect to the masses of journalistic images we absorb, but a photograph's aesthetic properties are frequently overlooked in favor of its content or subject. For these reasons, in part, photography is often collected differently from other art mediums. This panel addresses the uniquely varied ways photographs are collected, and how the simple gesture of gathering images becomes a significant aspect of contemporary art practice.
Participants: Geoffrey Batchen, Marvin Heiferman, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. Moderated by Jennifer Blessing

The Tactile Photograph, Tuesday, June 29 at 6:30 PM
Because of its mechanical production and insistently two-dimensional surface, photography is typically perceived as coldly distant from the realm of touch. Yet throughout the history of photography, artists have created images that evoke the tactile, through closeup renderings of texture, for example, or by integrating painterly gestures in their production. This panel addresses the ways in which tactility is evoked in photographs, whether through the representation of form or as an integral part of the creative process.
Participants: Carol Armstrong, Jeanne Dunning, Kathy O'Dell, and Gary Schneider. Moderated by Jennifer Blessing

Elliott Erwitt, Tuesday, July 13 at 6:30 PM
One of the leading photographers of his generation, Elliott Erwitt has been taking pictures since the late 1940s. A member of the prestigious Magnum Photos agency since 1954, he has photographed all over the world and his images have been the subject of many books and exhibitions. Erwitt’s unmistakable, often witty style gives us a snapshot of the famous and the ordinary, the strange and the mundane. He will discuss his work.

General Information: 212-423-3500
Hours: Saturday–Wednesday 10 AM–5:45 PM; Friday 10 AM–8 PM; closed Thursday
Admission: $15 adults; $10 students/seniors; children under 12 free; members free

March 29, 2004

Anne Edgar
Tel: 646-336-7230

Jennifer Russo
Tel: 212-423-384

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