ICP-MFA Online Curated Show Matthew Cohen

-1-2Sebastian Salgado, Himba Group

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Guernico, Elijah fed by Ravens, 1620

Guernico’s work was the first logical jump my mind made from Salgado’s image of a drought stricken area because the tablet in the far right of the image shows Kings 1, a passage about God warning of a drought. However, both of these depictions of drought created a feeling of the lack of water in another surprising way. An empty well at the bottom of Salgado’s piece is mirrored by an empty cup at the bottom of Guernico’s. This led me to think. How do we show lack? How do we depict that which we do not have? Guernico chose an empty object meant for holding. I sought more examples of this and other portrayals of this question.


El Greco, Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara, 1600

With the empty bowl in mind I was struck by how I overlooked the blank sheet of paper in this image. Why was that piece of paper there and why was it blank? Suddenly I wondered if this image takes on the same meaning we feel in the Guernico piece, yet without the direct depiction necessary. I my interest was renewed after dismissing this image as another technically amazing commissioned piece to perhaps a great statement about the artists perception of the individual.


Steiglitz, Black Forest Girl 1894

How far can we take this physical representation of the nonphysical? Steiglitz takes us to another empty feeling with yet another object meant for holding. How much do we learn about the photograph, the photographer, the subject, the time and the place based on what isn’t in this bucket? Without the bucket the viewer is significantly less informed about what the image tries to tell us about its subject.


Daumier, Third Class Carriage, 1864

Similarly, how does Daumier make us as viewers see this basket in the in The Third Class Carriage? He shows us people from all time periods of their life but our eye is drawn to a basket in the center of the frame. Here the object meant for holding things is informed by the characters within the image and the image title to make one think the basket might be empty.


Graciela Iturbide, Desierto de Sonora, 1979

I was first drawn to this image for the gasoline jug but felt it revealed a further connection to Salgado’s piece in that the empty holding object informs the entire world view of the subjects within the image. In Salgado’s image, the emptiness of the well only highlights the overall framing of drought and desperation the people within the image feel. Iturbide frames the life of the girls in the image and pinpoints the viewers feelings using the empty gasoline jug.


Elliot Erwin, USA. NYC. 1950.

The empty coffee cup in this image depicts another form of absence along with empty cup idea. It tells a story about its characters. Along with the year of creation, 1950, the coffee cup informs us of a businessman with no care for a spilled coffee or wasted dollar fifty. His stride past the fallen and spilled cup tells a story of a man who does not consider absence of goods.


Goya, The Dog, 1819

In Goya’s “The Dog” the eye is directed very similarly to the well and bowl, but our nothing is now a something, the subject is a dog. However, it accomplishes discussing absence in it’s own unique way. If you own a dog or lived with a dog you know they do not just look at nothing. They respond and react to things. As I began to write this sentence my dog sent a quick inquisitive look at me as my keyboard started to make noise. The dog in The Dog is looking at something, but what? Goya’s dog addresses emptiness by having the real subject be both unknown and out of frame.


Picasso, Still life of a Bottle of Rum, 1911

What else could be explored by physically representing less? My mind jumps to Cubism and the lack of complete viewing and understanding. How does this lack inform our understanding of the image as compared to a more physical absence? It pushes the viewer to think about the realness of the object even more than depicting it as it could be seen by anybody.


Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1963

Pushing the depiction of absence further still, what if nothing is actually ‘depicted’ in the image? Ad Reinhardt poses a way of forcing the viewer to consider almost nothing in an image. Soon I realized I was not looking at a depiction of emptiness but emptiness itself. Reinhardt’s abstractions are the emptiness we see in the bowl and the well without the surrounding context. Abstract Painting could very well be the piece of blank paper in the floor of El Greco’s piece.


Nasa, 2012

How is lack and drought shown right now? How do we show it empirically? Sometimes we need to see the change of things over time. NASA shows change to the Brazilian rivers as a before and after gif, forcing the viewer to witness the drastic physical changes in the landscape and color and consider its consequences.

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