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New Yorker Review: Josef Breitenbach at Gitterman Gallery

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thorough November 2, 2013

Opening Reception:

Wednesday, September 18

6:00 - 8:00 pm

German-born Josef Breitenbach was a photographic explorer, and true avant-gardist. His work feels eerily contemporary, and his creative process lead his work over the boundaries of many movements; Breitenbach's work relates to Pictorialism, Modernism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. At first glance we almost want to connect works by style as if to attribute them to the work of one artist then another, but it can not be done, and we find ourselves truly amazed by the breath of Breitenbach's oeuvre.

In an interview in The New Yorker's Photo Booth gallery owner Tom Gitterman reveals to Jessie Wender "what is important to know about Breitenbach's life and the ways in which it informed his work."

Breitenbach was raised with a profound respect for the history of art and culture, and he worked with a conscious understanding and appreciation for many different styles of artistic expression. His family had a wine business, which provided him with the means to travel outside of Munich, his home town, and experience more culture and artistic ideas. Living in Paris, where he spent time with Bertolt Brecht, Max Ernst, James Joyce, Aristide Maillol, and Wassily Kandinsky, must have had a huge impact on him. I also think that being interned, in 1939, escaping via Marseille, in 1941, and arriving in New York, in 1942, must have profoundly affected him.

The exhibition of Breitenbach's work now on view at Gitterman Gallery touches on all areas of experimentation- traditional and experimental processes, with emphasis on his lesser-known cameraless photography. Formal balanced traditional work is the underlying structure of works like Carnival, Germany, (c.1930); Vertical View, Germany, (c. 1932); and El (Hochbahn), New York (1942). Three portraits of Patricia, New York from 1942 have some footing in traditional portraiture but move through variations in handling and treatment of toning between near Pictoralism to hyper-graphic Modernism. These three seem to move and play before our eyes, and as soon as we identify something in Breitenbach's work it seems to move to elude us, shifting again into something else. This is where the work gets its charge. Still other works, a concentration of which are from c. 1946 - 1949, are completely and totally abstract. These works are photographic collage- part photogram, part chemical emulsion painting. They rest in photography, barely but decidedly and push to prove that, as Lyle Rexter puts it in Photograph Magazine, "Photography was not either/or but both/and, a means of recording reality but also, equally, of making visible things unseen, what his friend Max Ernst once called "unpeopled dreams."

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