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April 17, 1991 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-04-17

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Wednesday, April 17,1991

Page 5

Through the looking glass
with Florence Henri

by Laura Howe
Florence Henri's black and white photography
p provides an expansive look at the ideas and
innovations that made her a pioneering force in '20s
and '30s European avant-garde.
The Detroit Institute of Art is exhibiting 90 of
her photographs, focusing on the years between the
World Wars. During this period, Henri explored an
impressive variety of subject matters and techniques,
including advertising photography and still lifes.
Her strong background as a Cubist and
Constructivist artist is apparent in the way she
manipulates light and in her compositional
arrangements.
Henri's numerous "Abstract Compositions" are
beautifully complex images of light, shadow and
compositional intrigue. Her Constructivist
background is evident in the low camera angle and
the stark, mechanical look of the elements, seen in a
:1937 conglomeration of powerful images found in
architectural arches.
' , More compositions develop a real awareness for
the medium. The camera becomes an eye which sees
what the viewer sees. "Window Composition,"
from 1932, is a look from an open window across an
alley to another shuttered window. Attention is
drawn to the sharply focused window across the
alley, while the shutters and sash of the open
window are unfocused, secondary but vital elements
for framing the image.
The use of blurred foreground objects is seen in
many of Henri's photographs. They are striking con-
tinuations of her exploration with spatial
relationships which began in her Cubist paintings
and her photographs involving mirrors from the late
1920s. The mirror photographs create microcosms of
psychological uncertainty.
One of Henri's most interesting self-portraits
demonstrates the complex space she creates with
Mirrors and unfocused detail. Her own reflection
looks confidently back at the viewer from a mirror
hanging on a concrete wall. At first glance, the space
looks like the interior of a house, with a table and a
dried flower arrangement. But as the viewer
explores the grass and fence in the background of the

mirrored reflection, s/he struggles to determine if it
is a doorway or a window behind Henri which offers
this view of the outdoors. The struggle to identify
the spaces is further complicated by a blurry bit of
Henri's sleeve, which the camera captured in the
lower corner of the image, as she reached out to trip
the shutter.
A collection of portraits of women convey the
same forceful presence that Henri's self-portrait
does, but without the spatial ambiguity. Most of the
images are close head shots of women who meet the
viewer's look with a strong gaze. The viewer gets
the sense that these are pictures of women
confidently representing their individuality and not
generic or allegorical representations of
Womankind. These images of confident, intelligent
women are hailed as a strong step away from the
usual restrictive imagery of early 20th century
women as mother, housewife or whore. The same
command of compositional elements is produced
here as in Henri's abstract works.
Henri's strength is without a doubt in her
portraiture and abstract compositional photographs.
Her images of street scenes from the early 1930s are
the weakest in her oeuvre. They are frankly
uninteresting, and the odd camera angles don't make
up for the flatness and banality of the images. There
is too much clutter in these pictures, which read like
touristy snapshots. The reflections in store windows
that Henri captures do not create the psychological
or elemental tension of her mirror photographs. The
precision of stark spaces and forms in her more
successful imagery is simply not evident here.
This exhibit provides an excellent sampling of
Henri's tremendous collection of work. Similar
images are grouped together with panels of useful
information regarding Henri's techniques and aspira-
tions. Being the first major U.S. exhibition for
Henri's work, this show is a rare opportunity to see
the works of a truly brilliant force in the
development of modern abstract photography.
FLORENCE HENRI: ARTIST-PHOTOGRAPHER
OF THE AVANT-GARDE is in the De Salle Gallery
at the Detroit Institute of Art until May 5. flours are
9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
There is no admission fee.

Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles, Vol. 1
by K. Eastman and P. Laird
Tundra /softcover
On Wednesday, April 3, there
was a televised Salute to Our
Returning Soldiers (or some such
kitschy-patriotic name) on CBS.
George and Barb were there with
token grandchild, Alan Alda was
there to prove that he could rise
above his political views and
schmooze with the best of 'em, and
Barbara Mandrell and Andy
Griffith hosted it. The show opened
on the incredibly tasteless note of a
choir of Kuwaiti children singing
the national anthem and continued
downhill from there.
Though I didn't watch the whole
thing, I did catch the part where
Barbara Mandrell came out and said,
"I know what you've all missed
while being in Saudi Arabia. You
may think I don't know, but I know
what you've been wanting while
over there in the desert." The crowd
of some several thousand sexist and
sexually-repressed GIs - repre-
See BOOKS, Page 8
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Slide and video presentation followed by a hands-on
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25 Angell Hall
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