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Ida Kar master of photography on exhibition.

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Thursday, 17th March 2011 – David Franchi

Ida-Kar-Georges-Braque-In-His-StudioIda Kar pictured London’s life for three decades catching its intimate history. Therefore, it is a pleasant idea that the National Portrait Gallery, London, organised the major exhibition “Ida Kar: bohemian photographer, 1908- 1974”, ongoing until the 19th June 2011. This is the first museum exhibition for 50 years devoted to Ida Kar and includes nearly 100 photographs, some not previously exhibited. It highlights Kar’s Archive for the first time, from which on display are letters, a sitters’ book and a portfolio book made in 1954 of her trip to the Paris artists’ studios. 

“National Portrait Gallery acquired Ida Kar archive in 1999. It includes over 800 vintage prints and 10,000 negatives. And that was the job for the last 10 years.” said Clare Freestone, Curator of the exhibition and Associate Curator of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery. 

Ida Karamian was born on 8th April 1908, from an Armenian family, in Tambov, near Moscow. In 1921 the family moved to Alexandria (Egypt) where she was educated at the prestigious Lycée Français. In the late 1902s she travelled to Paris and experimented photography. Returned to Alexandria she met and married Edmond Belali. They opened a photographic studio called “Idabel”. They organised exhibitions in 1943 and 1944, in Cairo, with a surrealistic group of which one of the member was poet and artist Victor Musgrave, an English RAF officer. Kar divorced from Belali, married Musgrave in 1944 and with him moved to London in 1945. 

She started to work as theatrical photographer. On this beforehand period is focused the first space of the exhibition, “Ida Kar, early years”, here notably portrait of Londoner Nobel, Bertrand Russell. In 1949, Kar and Musgrave moved to 1, Litchfield Street, off Charing Cross. They established a studio on the upper floor and a gallery downstairs, later transformed in the celebrated ‘Gallery One’ (1953). 

In spring 1954 Ida Kar took a sabbatical three months period and went to Paris. At that time she specialised in portraits of famous artists and realised her first solo exhibition, at Gallery One, “Forty Artists from Paris and London”. The results of this work are on display in the second space at the NPG exhibition, “Forty artists, London and Paris” including portraits of famous artists Marc Chagall, Feliks Topolski, Man Ray, Le Corbusier, Tsugouharu Foujita, Alberto Giacometti and Gino Severini. 

artwork: Ida Kar - "Bridget Louise Riley", 1963 - Photo courtesy of © National Portrait Gallery

The third space, “Artists and writers”, deals with the period of mid- 1950s when Kar and Musgrave household became a meeting point for bohemians and Kar started to travel commissioned by Tatler magazine. Here notably are portraits of Eugene Ionesco, Dmitri Shostakovic, André Breton, T. S. Eliot, Jean – Paul Sartre and George Braque. 

But during the press preview there was also a surprise. In among the third space portraits one is of writer Bernard Kops (1926) who was present and said: “We lived much close. When I had my first play she was there. She was passionate and tenacious. We used to bump in everyday.” Kops is considered to be a keystone in ‘British Kitchen Sink Realism’, a cultural movement using social realism style to explore social issues and political controversies by depicting domestic situations of working class Britons, later developed in ‘Coronation Street’ style. 

At the press preview, aside his portrait, we also met writer Royston Ellis who said: “I was a performer poet. By the time the pic was made, I was touring with Jimmy Page (guitarist of Led Zeppelin ed.) who was accompanying me on stage.” Ellis ended performing a reading. In 1960s he was used to read his ‘rocketry’ accompanied by local musicians and among others he met the young The Beatles. Ellis had large influence on them according to Lennon: “The first dope, from a Benzedrine inhaler, was given to The Beatles (John, George, Paul and Stuart) by an English cover version of Allen Ginsberg — one Royston Ellis, known as ‘beat poet’ … So, give the saint his due.” 

Keeping on with the exhibition the fourth space, “Le Quartier St. Yves”, is based on the series commissioned to Ida Kar by Tatler (1961), with remarkably pictures of Henry Moore, Doris Lessing, Barbara Hepworth and Somerset Maugham. It is focused on the homonymous resort on the Wales coast, an artist colony which reached notoriety in the 1920s from the project ‘Leach Pottery’ and later attracted famous artists, counting Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Barbara Hepworth, Piet Mondrian, and Maurice Sumray. In 1993, a branch of the Tate Gallery, the Tate St Ives, was opened, and it also looks after the Barbara Hepworth Museum and her sculpture garden. 

The focal point of the fifth space, “Travel, documentary portraits”, is the reportage Kar made of her numerous travels around the world, particularly in Cuba, a Communist country, whose ideals she herself embraced. 

The height of Kar’s success was her solo exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery (1960) that contributed to change perception to a large degree and brought her critical, if not financial, success at the time. 

“The London scene & later sittings”, the last space, displays the activist side of Ida Kar. Here the portrait of Gustav Metzger gives the idea of that period the late 1960s. Metzger (1926) is an artist and political activist who developed the concept of Auto-Destructive Art and the Art Strike who is recognised for his protests in the political and artistic environment. 

At the press preview another lovely participant was the assistant of Kar, Julie Green, aka Julieta Preston: “I joined the studio in 1962. I am fed up with men; she said to me, I’m looking for females. It was a fantastic time, she was a wonderful person. It was a great fun and very instructive.” 

Supported by Raffy Manoukian – Spring Season sponsored by Herbert Smith LLP – the exhibition is not a come along by itself but there will be other events, such as, guided tours, talks, late shift extra and evening events.

Published for: www.italoeuropeo.com

Direct link: http://www.italoeuropeo.com/entertaiment/arts/ida-kar-master-of-photography-on-exhibition.–/

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Written by davidfranchi

March 19, 2011 at 1:34 am

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