August 20, 1996

Anna Bernhard Blume Photo-Works - Havard University Museums

Fogg Art Museum and Busch-Reisinger Museum, 
Harvard University Art Museums
September 14 - November 24, 1996

For the past twenty-five years, Anna and Bernhard Blume have created a photographic oeuvre noted for its engaging humor, conceptual rigor and thematic experimentation. Working mainly with staged photographs, printed in black and white and arranged in sequences of varying length and scale, the Blumes offer an unsettling exploration of the place of self in the modern world.

Anna and Bernhard Blume' work, whether in the cooler, more conceptual sequences with text of the 1970s (primarily by Bernhard Blume) or in the more expansive, satirical, and often feminist work of the past fifteen years (executed explicitly as a collaboration), is marked by an ironic humor that is part surreal and part vaudeville. In staging their obviously ficticious scenes, the artists are simultaneously both actors and directors. Anna and Bernhard Blume, both born in 1937, photograph themselves in the stereotyped garb, activity, and expressions of the German lower-middle class, which they acknowledge as part of their own background as Roman Catholics from the Rheinland region.

In these personae, they then interact (seemingly as victims) with the physical and mental fixtures of conventional life. Sometimes, it is chairs, vases, plates and other objects with vestiges of a sacral aura, that appear wildly out of control, with a life and power of their own; at other times, the artists are imposed upon the fixed ideas of culture and thought, such as the German romance with the forest, the pure forms of high modernist art, and other clichés. Informing their work is a playful and profound interest in the history of philosophy, which Bernhard Blume studied at Cologne University from 1967 to 1971. Throughout, as the Blumes slyly undermine certainties about the superiority of human reason, about the stability of the subject/object categories, and about the given social order, the viewer may sense the artists' persistent belief in the power of art's images to prompt a more honest humanity.

The Blumes deploy formal and technical means of great sophistication, with carefully calibrated effects of space, composition and scale. The photographic medium, which itself raises questions about the relationship between passivity (simply recording reality) and activity (subjective creativity), is intricately linked to the issues in the work. As artists who studied at the Dusseldorf Academy from 1960-1965, and there experienced the liberating effects of Joseph Beuys's teaching, the Blumes are of a generation which confronted the challenges of photography, an apparently trivial medium associated with amateur snapshots and mass culture, in their search for creative practice adequate to the late twentieth century.

Anna and Bernhard Blume have been honored with major presentations in Europe, while American audiences have seen only fragmented presentations of their work, including the 1988 Carnegie International, the traveling exhibition Photography in Contemporary German Art: 1960 to the Present, organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 1992, and small projects at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. They have also been honored with major presentations at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; Kölnischer Kuntsverein, Cologne; Weiner Sezession, Vienna; and Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn. The Blumes continue to work as a team and independently in Cologne.

This traveling exhibition, organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, is the first major presentation of the work of the German collaborative artists, Anna and Bernhard Blume. The exhibition is co-coordinated by Dean Sobel, curator of contemporary art, and Tom Bamberger, adjunct curator of photography, both at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Anna and Bernhard Blume Photo-Works is organized at the Harvard University Art Museums by Peter Nisbet, Daimler-Benz Curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. This exhibition is sponsored by Midwest Express Airlines, Inc. Additional funding has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; the Institut fuer Auslandsbeziehungen; and the German American Arts Foundation. The Art Museums' presentation of Anna and Bernhard Blume Photo-Works is made possible by the Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum.

Exhibition Catalogue: The accompanying publication is the first English-language catalogue to document the Blumes' work.

Related Events

Lecture and reception - September 17: Special viewing of the exhibition in the Busch-Reisinger and Fogg Museums. Bazon Brock, professor of aesthetics at the University of Wuppertal, Germany, presents a lecture entitled The Serenity of Failure: Anna and Bernhard Blume and an Alternative History of German Avant-Gardism in the Twentieth Century in the Sackler Auditorium. A reception with Bernhard Blume followed the lecture in the Fogg Courtyard.
Gallery talks: September 29 with Deborah Martin Kao, Charles C. Cunningham, Sr., Assistant Curator of Photographs. October 5 with Peter Nisbet, Daimler-Benz Curator, Busch-Reisinger Museum.  October 27 and November 16 with Sara Krajewski, 1996-1997 Werner and Maren Otto Curatorial Intern, Busch-Reisinger Museum.
Lecture - October 24 - To Photograph, to Forget, to Remember: Photographic Practices in Postwar German Art by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, associate professor of art history, Barnard College/Columbia University.


Anna and Bernhard Blume Photo-Works is a special exhibition on display in the Fogg Art Museum and Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts from September 14 through November 24, 1996.