september 15, 2018 - Masi Lugano

Balthasar Burkhard, 'From the Document to Large-Scale Photography' at MASI Lugano

Balthasar Burkhard

From the Document to Large-Scale Photography

10 June – 30 September 2018
#museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, #lugano at LAC #lugano Arte e Cultura

This exhibition is organized in collaboration with
the Folkwang Museum of Essen, the Fotomuseum and the Fotostiftung of Winterthur

The #museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana of #lugano is dedicating a monographic exhibition to the work of the Swiss photographer and artist #balthasarburkhard (Berne, 1944-2010). The exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Folkwang Museum of Essen, the FotoMuseum and the Fotostiftung of Winterthur, traces Burkhard's whole career, documenting both his activity as a chronicler of the international artistic scene between the 1960s and 1970s, and the works by means of which he contributed to revolutionizing the practice of photography.

The exhibition Balthasar Burkhard. From the Document to Large-Scale Photography begins with the early images made when the artist was doing his training in reportage and documentary photography in the 1960s, and it traces, through a large selection of pictures, his work as a chronicler of the international artistic scene working alongside the famous curator Harald Szeemann. The memory of the exhibitions curated by Szeemann that marked an era, such as When Attitudes Become Form alla Kunsthalle in Berne in 1969 and Documenta 5 in 1972, and of the installations and performances that characterized them, can still be experienced today thanks to Burkhard's photography.

Although he has worked as a photoreporter, Burkhard aspires to leave a mark as an artist. Together with his friend and fellow photographer Markus Raetz, he made his first photographs reproduced in large scale on canvas. The subjects—a bed covered by a wrinkled sheet, a large sheet of paper on the floor, a window covered by a curtain—create an interference between the image and the support canvas that is not stretched, but rather allowed to drop in gentle folds. In his unusual choice of the large-scale format, as well as his conceptual approach, his photography converses with other art forms from that day and age.

Burkhard was in the United States between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s. When he returned to Switzerland in 1983 he was invited to show his work at the Kunsthalle Basel, and in 1984, along with Niele Toroni, at the Musée Rath in Geneva. Installations were conceived in which the body enlarged to monumental size morphed into a landscape or an architectural element. At MASI viewers will be able to see a series of legs, originally shown in Basel, that surround the room in the manner of three columns. The design that was conceived for the Musée Rath, where the abstraction by Toroni, characterized by the repetition of marks left by the paintbrush, is related to a series of large-scale photos by Burkhard, is once again reproduced here. Photography thus frees itself from the traditional dimension, the manageable format, to become a spatial installation, almost as if to test—like other forms from that period—the architectural limits of traditional exhibition spaces.

Over the course of his career, Burkhard had often devoted himself to the portrait. Whereas during the years he was working as a photoreporter his images focused on artists engaged in the creation of their owns works, later he preferred subjects that actually posed, be they #people or animals. In the mid-1990s the latter theme led to an outstanding series of works in which Burkhard relives the classifying approach of nineteenth-century photography.

Between the mid-1990s and the new millennium, Burkhard tried his hand at urban and natural landscapes, reproduced in a large-scale format and characterized by the velvety black and white that is the signature he places on most of his oeuvre. Through his photographs Burkhard appears to create a formula in which to enclose all manifestations, both human and natural: rocks and waves take on sensual connotations, architectural regularity is glimpsed in the desert; bird's eye views of megalopolises—Tokyo, Chicago, Mexico City—turn these cities into organisms that stretch for as far as the eye can see. The dimension of the images underscores their emotional rather that documentary meaning, while the use of black and white in shaded tones bestows them with an almost tactile nature. Viewers find themselves before photographs that are not merely images, but rather a whole new conception of photography set in the ideal context of MASI’s large and versatile spaces.

MASI Lugano

The #museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, #lugano represents the point of arrival of an in-depth revision of the cultural policies that led to the merger between the #museo Cantonale d’Arte and the #museo d’Arte di #lugano as a single institution. The museum has two locations: on view at LAC are exhibits aimed at delving deeper into twentieth-century and contemporary art as well as the museum's permanent collection, while Palazzo Reali (temporarily closed for refurbishment) focuses on the history of art in the territory, and the valorization of specific groups in the museum collection. A main partner of MASI #lugano is Credit Suisse, which confirms its historical commitment in favour of art in #lugano.

LAC #lugano Arte e Cultura
Piazza Bernardino Luini 6, 6901 Lugano

Opening hours
Tuesday - Sunday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Thursdays open until 8 p.m. Closed Mondays