DATE: January 29, 2008
Ten years ago, Burt Finger, the owner of Photographs
Do Not Bend Gallery, received a phone call from a woman who invited him
over to see her mother's photographs. Art dealers often receive such
calls, and the prospects are not often very promising. But when Mr.
Finger arrived at the woman's home, he found the walls filled with
remarkable abstract photographs taken mostly in the 1950s.
They were the work of Ida Lansky, and the
research Mr. Finger and his gallery did with Ms. Lansky's archive has
resulted in the exhibition "Texas Bauhaus," which is currently at the
Dallas gallery after its first showing in 2006 at the El Paso Museum of
Carlotta Corpron, Nature Dancer, 1944
In the early '50s, Ms. Lansky was
working on a degree in library science at Texas Woman's University in
Denton when she took Carlotta Corpron's photography workshops and got
hooked. Ms. Corpron, who had her own retrospective exhibition at the
Amon Carter Museum in 1981, was devoted to the theories of the Bauhaus,
the radical German art school that promoted a union of art, design and
When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1933, many of its teachers
relocated to Chicago and opened the New Bauhaus, which became over time
the Institute of Design. Years before Ms. Lansky enrolled in Ms.
Corpron's classes, her teacher had brought to Denton such Bauhaus
luminaries as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes. Their theories that a
photograph should be about the play of light and not the objects
photographed flew in the face of the social documentary and new
objectivity that formed the American mainstream, and they along with Ms.
Corpron made North Texas a surprising stronghold for mid-20th-century
"Texas Bauhaus" includes work by Ms. Corpron, Ms. Lansky and Barbara
Maples, another participant in Ms. Corpron's workshops. Walking through
the exhibition, you see a clear line of influence as each of the three
women brings her own sensibility to processes developed in Germany in
Ida Lansky, Colony, c. 1950s
Some of the photographs appear to be
multiple exposures, but control of the photographic moment and not
manipulation of the negatives is at the core of their practice. It is
often difficult to know exactly how a particular image was produced.
Photograms, a camera-free method of producing images by placing objects
directly on photographic paper, play a part in each artist's work. Light
boxes, at the time a recent device developed by Nathan Lerner, tightly
controlled how an object would be presented by isolating it in a neutral
setting under directional lighting. Within the light box, mirrors might
be used to multiply the image, or the final print might be reprinted in
reverse to create a diptych.
For a process known as reticulation, the negative was soaked in water
until it began to break up, creating an eerie sensation that solid
objects were alive with organic movement.
Both Ms. Lansky and Ms. Maples did some work with architecture and
interiors, but for the most part the three worked in the studio with
props. Ms. Corpron's Nature Dancer (1944) is nothing more than a splayed
Chinese cabbage, but her photograph has the elegance and drama that
recall contemporary images of Martha Graham and other modern dancers.
Eggs, seashells and small sculptures also appear in their work, but the
object photographed would often be difficult to identify without the
titles. Ms. Maples, with such titles as Plastic Boxes, Plastic Jars and
Paper Form, is the most informative, although throughout the exhibition
there are enough untitled works or those identified merely as
"abstractions" that you often have little idea exactly what you are
Staying true to their Bauhaus roots, however, Ms. Corpron, Ms. Lansky
and Ms. Maples are never so much concerned with what they are
photographing as how they are doing so, and trying to guess what has
gone into each image is somewhat like worrying over how a magician does
his act. It is better to sit back and enjoy the show.
All three create images that are at times sensuous, amusing or dramatic.
They are equally capable of dissolving physical objects into displays
of light and shadow or bringing order to seemingly random piles of
stuff. Ms. Lansky used interlocking asbestos tiles, a children's toy of
the day, to build puzzlelike architectural models. Ms. Maples crumpled
paper with great finesse. For her Flowing Light images, Ms. Corpron left
the camera shutter open to create complex spirals and rushing lines of
In today's digital world, we are accustomed to photographs that have
been manipulated into high-tech wonders of both scale and
sophistication. "Texas Bauhaus" shows the roots of those impulses in
work that could have been produced in the studio or on the kitchen
By Charles Dee Mitchell
For The Dallas Morning News