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Joel-Peter Witkin: Forty Photographs

DATES August 01, 1986 through September 22, 1986
  • August 1, 1986 The traveling exhibition of forty black-and-white photographs by the Brooklyn-born artist Joel-Peter Witkin will open at The Brooklyn Museum on August 1. Joel-Peter Witkin: Forty Photographs, a survey of the artist’s often-controversial themes and imagery dating from 1974 to 1985, is Witkin’s first one-man exhibition in major American museums. It will be on view through September 22, 1986.

    Witkin creates a phantasmagorical world with images that often relate to death and sexual deviance. His photographs are painstakingly composed, using models who understand the nature of the imagery and willingly participate. Though his images are often shocking and confrontational and explore the dark side of human nature, they have deep, spiritualistically affirmative undertones. His work is filled with allusions to painting, sculpture and the history of photography, including art historical references ranging from Hieronymous Bosch to Grant Wood.

    Witkin generally works in series dealing with particular themes that interest him at the time. First, he makes drawings that become more specific until he has achieved a clear idea of what he wants to photograph. Then he builds the set, or situation, in his studio and finds models who correspond to his conception.

    After taking the photograph, Witkin works on the negative using tissue paper to soften the image in places or scratching into the emulsion. He then prints on a warm-toned paper and uses two separate toners . The finished exhibition print has a warm brownish tone that imparts an illusion of age. This technique distances the image, making the often bizarre subject matter more bearable than would more straightforward printing methods.

    Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1939, Witkin attended The Cooper Union School of Art, receiving a B.F.A. in 1974. He received his M.A. in Photography in 1976 from the University of New Mexico, Alburquerque. He has had one-man exhibitions of his work in the United States, Europe and Japan, and his photographs are in the collections of major museums in this country and abroad.

    Joel-Peter Witkin: Forty Photographs has been organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it received its inaugural showing before traveling to Chicago and on to Brooklyn. After The Brooklyn Museum the show will travel to the Milwaukee Art Museum (October 16 - January 11, 1987), and the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, California (February 28 - April 5, 1987).

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1986, 061-62.
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