ID_002 Alvin Langdon Coburn, Vortograph, 1917

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), Vortograph, 1917. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 283 x 214 mm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum NY © The Universal Order.

LONDON.- A major new exhibition at Tate Modern reveals the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art is the first show of this scale to explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction, from the early experiments of the 1910s to the digital innovations of the 21st century. Featuring over 350 works by more than 100 artists, the exhibition explores the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.  

ID_046 Luo Bonian - Untitled

 Luo Bonian (1911-2002), Untitled, 1930s. Courtesy The Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing © Luo Bonian

Shape of Light places moments of radical innovation in photography, such as Alvin Langdon Coburn’s pioneering ‘vortographs’ from 1917, within the wider context of abstract art. This relationship between media is explored through the juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers, such as cubist works by George Braque and photographs by Pierre Dubreuil, or the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Otto Steinert’s ‘luminograms’. Abstractions from the human body associated with surrealism including André Kertesz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, are exhibited together with a major painting by Joan Miró. Elsewhere the focus is on artists whose practice spans diverse media including photography, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.  

ID_086 Imogen Cunningham - Triangles 1928

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), Triangles, 1928, printed 1947-60. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 119 x 93 mm. Pierre Brahm © Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved

The exhibition also acknowledges the impact of MoMA’s landmark photography exhibition of 1960, The Sense of Abstraction. Installation photographs of this pioneering show are displayed with some of the works originally featured in the exhibition, including important works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since the MoMA show, 58 years ago. 

Pierre Dubreil, Interpretation Picasso, the Railway, c

Pierre Dubreuil (1872-1944), Interpretation Picasso: The Railway, c.1911. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 238 x 194 mm. Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d'art moderne-Centre de création industrielle

The connections between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting are examined, with rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from the 1960s, featuring a striking painting by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neusüss and Gottfried Jäger. Rooms are also dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition culminates in a series of new works by contemporary artists, Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, exploring photography and abstraction today.  

ID_098 Otto Steinert, The Luminogram II 1952

 Otto Steinert (1915-1978), Luminogram II, 1952. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 302 x 401 mm, Jack Kirkland Collection Nottingham © Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen

Shape of Light is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography), Tate Modern and Emmanuelle de l'Ecotais, Curator for Photography, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris with Shoair Mavlian and Sarah Allen, Assistant Curators, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.


 Barbara Kasten ( b.1936), Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13 (ID187), 1974. Photograph, salted paper print, 558 x 762 mm. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Bortolami Gallery, New York.

ID_224 Antony Cairns - LDN5_051 2017

Antony Cairns (born 1980), LDN5_051, 2017. Courtesy of the artist © Antony Cairns

Man Ray, Unconcerned Photograph, 1959

 Man Ray (1890-1976), Unconcerned Photograph, 1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018


Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000), Homage to Kandinski, 1937. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 387 x 278 mm, Stadtmuseum Hofheim am Taunus © Estate Marta Hoepffner

Kandinsky - Swinging - 1925 - T02344

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Swinging, 1925. Oil paint on board, 705 x 502 mm, Tate.

Miro - Painting - 1927 - T01318

 Joan Miró (1893-1983), Painting, 1927. Tempera and oil paint on canvas, 972 x 1302 mm, Tate © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018 


Edward Ruscha (b.1937), Gilmore Drive-In Theater - 6201 W. Third St., 1967, printed 2013. Photograph, gelatin silver prints on paper, 356 x 279 mm. Courtesy Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery © Ed Ruscha


Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Number 23, 1948. Enamel on gesso on paper, 575 x 784 mm. Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960 © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018


 Maya Rochat (b.1985), A Rock is a River (META RIVER), 2017. Courtesy Lily Robert © Maya Rochat


 James Welling (born 1951), Untitled, 1986. Photograph, C-print on paper, 254 x 203 mm, Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham © James Welling. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong and Maureen Paley, London


Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, Tate Modern, 2018. Install View. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.


Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, Tate Modern, 2018. Install View. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley. 


 Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, Tate Modern, 2018. Install View. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.


Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, Tate Modern, 2018. Install View. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.


 Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, Tate Modern, 2018. Install View. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.


 Maya Rochat (b.1985), A Rock Is A River, 2018, Tate Modern install view. Courtesy Lily Robert and VITRINE, London | Basel © Maya Rochat. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.


Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), Untitled (Uranium Green) ,1992, Tate Modern install view. Hans Georg Näder © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018. Photo: © Tate / Seraphina Neville.