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List provides ways to relieve stress

by Archives April 10, 2002

With finals and last minute papers looming yonder, rejuvenation of sanity and spirit is imperative lest you want to completely FREAK OUT. A little birdie told me of a wonderful alternative to non-prescription drugs and so ladies and gentleman I offer you a stirring and melancholic aesthetic experience for the bargain price of 6 whole dollars (bring your student card and a Walkman/Discman with appropriate contemplative music).
Now wait for it…The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion is presenting an exquisite collection of Herbert List’s masterful 20th century, black and white photography prints.
Featuring 220 prints, it is the first retrospective exhibition of this scope devoted to List, a German artist, who although somewhat overlooked, is considered one of the most important photographers of the past century.
Organized into five themes: metaphysical photography, ruins and fragments, young men, portraits and moments, List’s work exudes a rare and true richness of diversity from portraiture to landscape in Italy and Greece and within its theme, Classical Greek notions of Eros and mythological incarnations to photojournalistic recordings of a war-ravaged Munich post World War II.
This “Romantic Wanderer,” being Jewish, homosexual and a supporter of the European Avant-Garde, left Germany in 1936 in fear of Nazi persecution to travel to Paris, London, Italy and Greece where his hobby of photography became his profession.
During this time List embraced a new Romantic spirit abroad in European art in the mid-1930’s marked by melancholy and an acute consciousness of human vulnerability and isolation.
The visualization and the enchantment of this theme in his work lie within his use of light. While you feel like you are escaping into a warm and enticing dream world, a melancholic truth and poignant reality is transmitted tenderly within the frame.
His use of light – whether cast on young men’s idealized and sensual bodies or reflected through glass – radiates of warm luminosity and playful creativity. This is culminated with his exquisite and illusive Goldfish Bowl, which is reason enough to see the exhibition.
The goldfish, swimming in a glass bowl is set against the backdrop of a setting sun across the sea and thus presents the illusion of a bowl floating in the immense panorama.
According to List, the fish in the bowl symbolizes the human spirit trapped within the material world.
While reflecting on this may only cause you to become even more depressed about your present academic state, the photo’s sheer brilliance and use of light becomes conditioning as it expresses a soft and somewhat acceptable melancholy.
Even his press photographs of German families walking through their rubbled homes searching for firewood embody the bittersweet fragility of life – a type of “Life is Beautiful” fairy tale.
Later during the 1930s, when he became more serious about photography, he began to experiment with ideas of essence and appearance with ghost-like double exposures, montage and the use of mirrors, creating world-renowned Surrealist inspired prints like Female Slave II.
This new aesthetic leaning led him to meet and befriend some of the early twentieth century surrealist and abstract masters like Jean Cocteau and Picasso who are also featured prominently in List’s portraits.
The title of the exhibition Romantic Wanderer defines not only List’s spirit and the work he produced with a versatility and vastness, but the psychological state of a post depression, war ravaged world of this period.
You might feel like you’ve just taken an extensive yoga class when you finished the exhibition. It may sound cheesy but a mellow feeling of self consciousness did seem to flow- too much Oprah? In any case, this is my stress relieving, meltdown avoiding remedy. Enjoy.
The exhibition held @ the Renata and Michal Hornstein Pavilion, 1379 Sherbrooke Street West, is on until April 28, 2002.

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