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Henri Labrouste’s “Precision and Liberty”
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Cover of the exhibition catalogue Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light, published by The Museum of Modern Art

French architect Henri Labrouste (1801–1875) may not be an instantly recognizable name, yet he is one of the most influential precursors of modern architecture. Most well known for two luminous library reading rooms built in Paris in the 1800s, the Bibliothèque nationale de France (1838–50) and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1859–75), Labrouste has been long admired by both modernists and postmodernists for his innovative embrace of then-new technologies, like cast iron and gas lighting. Read more

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Reconsidering Bill Brandt
Cover of the exhibition catalogue Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light, published by The Museum of Modern Art

MoMA’s new book Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light by Sarah Hermanson Meister, curator in the Department of Photography at MoMA, is a fresh look at the work of an iconic British photographer. The exhibition currently on view isn’t the first time MoMA has presented Bill Brandt’s work to the public—the last Brandt retrospective was in 1969. Since then, the Museum’s perspective of Brandt’s work has evolved into a more complete consideration of the nuances and variations in Brandt’s own photo-historical approach.

Brandt’s photography is traditionally presented in thematic groupings at the artist’s own request, but this view alone simplifies a body of work that is multifaceted and far-reaching in style, influence, and subject matter. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light is the most comprehensive overview of Brandt’s work to date, and it attempts to create a coherent trajectory across five decades of his career.

Beyond the 160 tri-tone reproductions of his photographs, the book features a rich appendix that illuminates different aspects of Brandt’s oeuvre. A section on Brandt’s photo-stories from 1939 to 1945 reproduces spreads from the publications in which they originally appeared, and a detailed survey of his methods for retouching his photos is especially fascinating in today’s world of digital cameras, smart phones, and instant photo filters. Brandt often spoke about how important the retouching process was in his work, and by looking at the various tools and techniques he used to edit and perfect his final images, photo conservator Lee Ann Daffner’s illustrated glossary dives deep into Brandt’s working process. As discussed in a prior INSIDE/OUT post, Dating Brandt, the same negative can look completely different depending on when Brandt retouched it.

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Sample of Bill Brandt’s published photo-stories in the exhibition catalogue, Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light. The photo-stories are organized chronologically to suggest the breadth of Brandt’s artwork


Though his influences, subject matter, and technical approach shifted over his long career, Brandt never lost what Meister describes as “his obvious delight in the uncanny aspects of the everyday.” Her introductory essay opens with a quote from Brandt on the role of a photographer:

I believe this power of seeing the world as fresh and strange lies hidden in every human being. In most of us it is dormant. Yet it is there, even if it is no more than a vague desire, an unsatisfied appetite that cannot discover its own nourishment….This should be the photographer’s aim, for this is the purpose that pictures fulfill in the world as it is to-day. To meet a need that people cannot or will not meet for themselves. We are most of us too busy, too worried, too intent on proving ourselves right, too obsessed with ideas, to stand and stare.

Bill Brandt took the time to “stand and stare” in many different ways. Whether through juxtapositions of class structure, wondrous nudes, inventive portraiture, or unearthly landscapes, Brandt’s far-reaching inspirations and approaches generated arresting imagery that still holds magic and wonder today.

Left: Bill Brandt. The Pilgrim’s Way, Kent. 1950. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 75⁄8" (22.9 x 19.4 cm). EHG. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. Right: Bill Brandt. Francis Bacon Walking on Primrose Hill, London. 1963. Gelatin silver print, 91⁄4 x 71⁄2" (23.5 x 19.1 cm). Collection David Dechman and Michel Mercure. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

From left: Bill Brandt. Francis Bacon Walking on Primrose Hill, London. 1963. Gelatin silver print, 91⁄4 x 71⁄2″ (23.5 x 19.1 cm). Collection David Dechman and Michel Mercure. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.; Bill Brandt. The Pilgrim’s Way, Kent. 1950. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 75⁄8″ (22.9 x 19.4 cm). EHG. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.


For more on Brandt’s expansive career, preview a free PDF sample of the exhibition catalogue.

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Shedding light on The Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh. <em>The Starry Night.</em>

Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night. 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/4″ (73.7 x 92.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

There is hardly an introduction that does Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) justice. It is one of the most recognizable and beloved artworks in the world, and for many MoMA visitors, it is the artwork to see—a celebrity perhaps signifying modern art itself. Yet despite its fame, few viewers are likely familiar with the story behind this unlikely masterpiece, one of the many nighttime paintings Van Gogh produced during his stay at a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, in the south of France.

Now available for the iPad, MoMA’s One on One series offers a sustained meditation on The Starry Night by art historian Richard Thomson that sheds light on the painting and transports readers to the environment in which it was created. In Thomson’s engaging essay filled with vivid visual references and snippets of Van Gogh’s personal correspondences, readers can catch a glimpse of the artist’s complex inner workings and the thought processes that went into creating the nighttime scene.

Screenshot from Van Gogh: The Starry Night

Screenshot from Van Gogh: The Starry Night

Screenshots from Van Gogh: The Starry Night

What’s more, Thomson examines the physical circumstances behind The Starry Night, taking readers to the actual place where Van Gogh focused his attentions to the night sky, and highlighting the artist’s technique and style. Thomson also considers other artwork that Van Gogh may have seen at the time, placing The Starry Night in a broader historical context.

For more on The Starry Night, visit the iBookstore to download a free sample, and check out the other One on One series book available for the iPad, Rousseau: The Dream, in which MoMA curator Ann Temkin illuminates Henri Rousseau’s last major painting.

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March 27, 2013  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
From Artists Books to Performances, Updated MoMA Highlights Shines Spotlight on a New Set of Works
Cover of MoMA Highlights: 350 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Cover of MoMA Highlights: 350 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Although the word “modern” will always spark some debate over its definition, The Museum of Modern Art has been committed since its founding in 1929 to collecting and sharing with the public the most compelling art of our time. Read more

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Dieter Roth’s “Nothing” Is Really Quite Something

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth, published by The Museum of Modern Art


Pulled from Dieter Roth’s masterpiece, Snow (1964/69), the title of MoMA’s latest book initially reads as something of a dare to stick around: Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth. Whether from the curiosity to see how it ends or the desire to possess something fleeting, this call to action sparked our appetite to consume Roth’s editions slowly in order to savor what might not last. Read more

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January 25, 2013  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
For the sake of thought: Provoke, 1968–1970

Provoke (Purovōku) was an experimental magazine founded by photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Takuma Nakahira, critic Koji Taki, and writer Takahiko Okada in 1968. The magazine’s subtitle read as: shisō no tame no chōhatsuteki shiryō (Provocative documents for the sake of thought). Photographer Daido Moriyama is most often associated with the publication, but Moriyama did not join the magazine until the second issue. Read more

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December 19, 2012  |  Publications
Digging Deeper: The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism

Pablo Picasso. Boy Leading a Horse. 1905-06. Oil on canvas, 7′ 2 7/8″ x 51 5/8″ (220.6 x 131.2 cm). The William S. Paley Collection. © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

History and progress—two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts. Yet, both are expertly realized in Pablo Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse, one of the masterpieces featured in The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism. Read more

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December 13, 2012  |  Publications
Picasso’s Girl before a Mirror: The Science Behind Art History

Cover of Picasso: Girl before a Mirror

More and more, art historians are turning to science and technology to help solve the mysteries laid in paint by artists throughout the centuries. Chemical analysis of paint chips has been used to explain the discoloration of cadmium yellow in a van Gogh still life. “Emotion recognition” computer software has been applied to the Mona Lisa to try to decipher that ever-inscrutable smile. Read more

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November 28, 2012  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
Duchamp, Rauschenberg, and Assemblage: A Preview of Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913 >> 2013
Cover of <em>Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913&gt;&gt;2013</em>

Cover of Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913>>2013

Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913 >> 2013, published to accompany the latest exhibition in The Museum of Modern Art’s ongoing collaboration with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, details six significant moments in art history since the beginning of the 20th century. Read more

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November 21, 2012  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
A Closer Look at Christina’s World
Andrew Wyeth, <i>Christina's World</i> (1948). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Purchase. © 2012 Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2012 Andrew Wyeth

In 1949 The Museum of Modern Art acquired a modest-sized landscape painting from the Macbeth Gallery on 57th Street in New York City for $1,800—then considered a hefty sum for an artwork. The painting would go on to become one of the most recognized images in American art, Read more