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Last Updated June 17, 2021

August Sander: Men Without Masks

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Address: Hauser & Wirth
23 Savile Row

Starts: 18 May, 2018
Ends: 28 August, 2018
Opening times: Tues-Sat, 1000-1800hrs
Genre: People and Portraits

Hauser & Wirth is delighted to present ‘August Sander. Men Without Masks’, an exhibition dedicated to the late German photographer, a forefather of conceptual art and pioneering documentarian of human diversity. Over the course of a career spanning six decades and tens of thousands of negatives, August Sander created a nuanced sociological portrait of Germany comprising images of its populace, as well as its urban settings and dramatic landscapes. Working in a rigorous fashion, he pioneered a precise, unembellished photographic aesthetic that was formative to the establishment of the medium’s independence from painting and presaged conceptual art. The artist considered empathy toward his sitters to be critical to his work, and strove not to impose a portrayal upon an unwilling subject, but to enable self-portraits.

This exhibition features an extensive selection of rare large-scale Sander photographs. Made between 1910 and 1931, the portraits on view paint a picture of Germany’s complex socio-economic landscape in the years leading up to and through the Weimar Republic. These early examples of Sander’s oeuvre — in particular, the ‘Portfolio of Archetypes’, — laid the framework for ‘People of the 20th Century’, the artist’s larger, lifelong effort to catalogue contemporary German society through his photographs and to reveal the truth of its ethnic and class diversity. Upon his father’s death and on the eve of the publication of the book ‘Menschen ohne Maske’ (published in English as ‘Men Without Masks’), Sander’s son Gunther (1907 – 1987) selected and printed the photographs in a unique oversize format for inclusion in an exhibition at the Mannheimer Kunstverein in 1973. In 1997, five portraits from ‘Men Without Masks’ were featured in the exhibition ‘August Sander: In photography there are no unexplained shadows!’, curated by Gerd Sander, at the National Portrait Gallery in London. With stunning detail drawn forth by their scale, these photographs capture a critical moment in Sander’s artistic evolution and in our collective history.
When Sander embarked on his ‘Portfolio of Archetypes’ in 1910, he had already established himself as a successful photographer in a profession that had only recently become a viable line of work. Urged on by the prevailing pictorialist photographic aesthetic, photographers aimed to make images that stylistically mimicked painting. Sander broke with this approach after a successful experiment in the darkroom. Enlarging a photograph using smooth, glossy paper typically reserved for technical images, he created a portrait that was extraordinarily detailed — a far cry from his earlier, softer portraiture that clouded over imperfections. This matter-of-fact, technically exact approach, enhanced by his adoption of a straightforward perspective and use of natural light, became Sander’s modus operandi as he put his apparatus to work cataloging Weimar Germany and his fellow citizens. As Sander explained: ‘Nothing seemed to me more appropriate than to project an image of our time with absolute fidelity to nature by means of photography… Let me speak the truth in all honesty about our age and the people of our age.’
Sander’s conceptual approach grew from the idea of the Stamm-Mappe, loosely translated as ‘home album.’ In his early images, the artist photographed the peasants of his native village Westerwald – people with whom he had a rapport – and proceeded to sort them ‘according to their essential archetype, with all the characteristics of mankind in general’. From these photographs Sander produced the iconic 12-photo ‘Portfolio of Archetypes’, a grouping that would set the tone for his larger project in both organisation and concept. On view in ‘August Sander’, the ‘Portfolio of Archetypes’ features stoic farming men and women in single, double, and group portraits. The sitters told their own stories through their expressions, gestures, poses, clothing and accessories. Sander presented each of his subjects as wholly individual — rendering their riveting idiosyncrasies, their unrepeatable details— and representative of a br...


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