The Boston Athenaeum, Boston, 2008

All shook up – Thomas Kellner photographs the Boston Athenaeum

The Boston Athenæum portrayed in an exhibition by german photographer Thomas Kellner, feb. 13 ?april 19, 2008

"all shook up: thomas kellner photographs the boston athenæum" is a brand new look at the venerable beacon hill architectural icon

The Boston Athenæum presents an exhibition of photographs by German experimental photographer Thomas Kellner.  "All Shook Up" opens on Feb. 13 and runs through April 19, 2008, in the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery at The Boston Athenæum, 10 1/2 Beacon Street on Beacon Hill, near the State House. Admission is FREE and open to the public. Gallery hours are Mondays 9 am ? 8 pm, Tuesday through Friday 9 am ? 5:30 pm and Saturday 9 am ? 4 pm.  For more information, call (617) 227-0270 or visit  

A Press preview with the artist, library director, and curator will be held Monday, Feb. 11 at 10 am.  Please RSVP to (617) 282-2510 or by Feb. 7

Known worldwide for his deconstructive/reconstructive architectural photographs, Kellner was invited to be the Athenæum's bicentennial artist-in-residence in 2006.  Kellner painstakingly takes multiple photographs of fragments of a single image, and then assembles the fragments into a new representation of the subject.  His subjects have included such architectural icons as the Eiffel Tower, London Tower Bridge, Arc de Triomphe, Stonehenge, and Golden Gate Bridge. Here, he turns to the Athenæum’s Registered National Historic Landmark building at 10 ½ Beacon Street as his subject. Kellner’s time at the Athenæum was spent sketching and photographing the striking interior of the Library for its 200th anniversary.  This exhibit showcases 16 large scale color photographs of the Athenæum with which Kellner begins his photographic studies, clearly illustrating his methodology.  Also on view are the artist’s notebook for the project and a portrait of the Library’s director, a rare instance of portraiture by this photographer. The exhibition has an accompanying fully-illustrated catalog with an introductory essay by Boston Athenæum Director Richard Wendorf.  The catalog will be available for sale at the Athenæum for $20. The exhibition and catalog have been generously supported by the Susan Morse Hilles Bicentennial Fund. 

The exhibition is curated by Sally Pierce, the Athenæum’s Curator of Prints and Photographs. “During its first 200 years, the Athenaeum interior has been photographed by many distinguished Boston photographers, including Baldwin Coolidge, Thomas E. Marr, George M. Cushing, Richard Cheek, Peter Vanderwarker, and Shellburne Thurber,” says Ms. Pierce. “Thomas Kellner’s vision animates these interior spaces in a new way. The classical symmetrical rooms are ‘all shook up’ with light and energy.”

With subversive irony, Kellner’s architectural photographs do not appear as the postcard-esque pictures of iconic monuments we carry in our minds, nor can they be seen as images documenting perfect form. His buildings are deconstructed into multiple fragments and reconstructed to assume an entirely new form. However, the ostensible interpretation of Kellner’s work as being cubistic-fragmentarian montages is too narrow. In fact, his art explores the history of the photography genre in a media-reflective way. Its essence lies in the fact that his large-scale color photographs are contact sheets composed of consecutively assembled filmstrips of a single shooting session. This implies that the conceptual process begins long before the camera is actually used: the fragmentation of the image initially takes place within the artist’s mind. As Richard Wendorf comments in the catalog essay, “Kellner’s photographs ask us to perform a variety of operations simultaneously as we attempt to fuse these dancing images into a more stable, more readily identifiable whole.” 

Thomas Kellner was born in Germany in 1966, and studied art, sociology, politics and economics at the University of Siegen in Germany.  He is the recipient of the Kodak Germany Young Professionals Prize, and was a visiting professor of fine art photography at the University of Giessen.  His work has been shown in solo exhibitions in Germany, the United States, Brazil, and England, and he currently lives and works in Siegen, Germany.


About the Boston Athenæum

The Boston Athenæum, founded in 1807, is one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries in the United States.  The building’s first floor galleries are always free and open to the public.  The Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery features new exhibitions three to four times a year, and pieces of the Athenæum's formidable permanent collection of visual art are on display on a rotating basis in the public areas.

Membership at the Boston Athenæum is open to all by application. In addition to library borrowing privileges, members enjoy access to beautiful research rooms with wireless internet access, and many events, including concerts, lectures, book groups, children's story hours and the famous bi-weekly Athenæum Afternoon Tea. For information about membership, visit  

CONTACT:     Joyce Linehan (617) 282-2510 X 1,
        Kirsten Alexander, Boston Athenæum (617) 720-7654,           

All Shook Up

February 13 - April 19, 2008

The Boston Athenaeum, Boston, MA, USA

Press Releases


1. Boston Globe
2. The Harvard Crimson
3. Berkshire Fine Arts
4. The Boston Globe
5. Return to the Center (blog)



Boston Globe February 24, 2008

Constructing a vision with a viewfinder

Two photography exhibits put the focus on notable buildings
By Robert Campbell
Globe Correspondent / February 24, 2008

ANDOVER - Ezra Stoller was a great artist, but it would be hard to deduce that truth from the 13 images on display here at the Addison Gallery at Phillips Andover Academy.


At: the Addison Gallery through March 23. 978-749-4015, www.and
All Shook Up: Thomas Kellner Photographs the Boston Athenaeum
At: Boston Athenaeum through April 19. 617-227-0270, bostonathenae

Stoller (1915-2004) was an architectural photographer. He flourished during the heyday of the modern movement in American architecture, from the early 1940s through the early '70s. His images were often superior, in artistic quality and cultural influence, to the buildings they recorded.

So influential was Stoller's work that many architects didn't feel a building was complete until it had been "Stollerized" - a term that gives this exhibit its name. He came to have as much influence on architectural taste as did the architects whose buildings he recorded. He was the acknowledged leader of a generation of great photographers who believed in modernism and promoted it with evocative images.

Alas, you'd never guess Stoller's greatness from this show. I wasn't sure the prints on view were all even done by Stoller himself, but his daughter Erica, who manages his archive, believes they were. But the Addison's lighting is too dim to bring out the amazing tonal range of a Stoller print. By a chance that would have made the photographer grind his teeth, photos by his disliked West Coast rival, Julius Schulman, are better lit in this same Addison Gallery in another show called "Birth of the Cool."

That said, there are a couple here of Stoller's best. One is a 1962 shot of the interior of the TWA terminal at JFK in New York, by the architect Eero Saarinen. Stoller creates an image that is a metaphor for the aerial swoop of planes and the excitement, in that era, of flight. As passengers move up and down the ramps and steps, we share the sense of entering on an adventure. And somehow, despite using a shutter speed that freezes these moving figures, Stoller achieves his characteristic depth of field, where everything is sharp from the nearest railing to the farthest window. Stoller's mastery of deep focus in black-and-white often reminds you of the films of his contemporary, Orson Welles. (Stoller's photo may soon be all that remains of the terminal. The TWA is today a preservation crisis, currently mothballed and soon to be surrounded by a new terminal for Jet Blue.)

Another winner is an undated interior of the Glass House in Connecticut, by architect Philip Johnson. Stoller captures the modernist merging of indoor and outdoor space in a brilliant image. The other photos are also of modernist icons, by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright (five photos), Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer. They're all worth a look, but none shows the artist at his very best, at least not as they're presented here.Continued...

The Stollers were purchased from a New York gallery by Stephen C. Sherrill, an Andover alum and trustee, who donated them to the Addison.

Very different, though also architectural, is an exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum. A young German photographer, Thomas Kellner, came to the Athenaeum as an artist in residence in 2006 and made photographic images of 16 scenes within the Athenaeum's building at 10 1/2 Beacon St. The exhibit is "All Shook Up: Thomas Kellner Photographs the Boston Athenaeum."

Kellner employs a technique he invented himself. A single camera, mounted on a tripod, is tilted and moved in such a manner as to make as many as 360 shots of each scene. The resulting strips of film are then grouped into a wall mural. Each mural looks like - and in fact it literally is - a photographer's contact sheet, with each strip clearly visible, including not only the framed images but also the film's dark edges. Always slightly out of kilter with one another, the tiny images create a kaleidosopic fragmentation of the visible world.

It's a fascinating way of seeing. The film's edges create a black grid that reminds you of the black-and-white modernism beloved by Stoller. The grid could be the elevation of a skyscraper like the Seagram building. But here the grid is superimposed on a riot of colored images, which fragment the subject into many tiny glimpses.

Kellner is self-taught. "I am not a trained photographer," he emphasizes. (Stoller, too, was self-taught.) In a recent talk at the Athenaeum, he described his process and spoke of the influence of early 20th century Cubist painters such as Robert Delaunay. Like the Cubists, Kellner invents a way of presenting a subject from many points of view simultaneously. As Athenaeum director Richard Wendorf points out in the catalog, this is as "real" a way of seeing as any other. After all, the camera cannot lie.

Kellner creates a unique tension. The black grid, with its bureaucratic numbering of each image, seems to impose an authoritarian order on the scene, an order from which the colored images are trying to escape. There are, of course, other possible sources besides Cubism. Wendorf mentions David Hockney and his collages of Polaroid images. Perhaps, too, there is a reminiscence of the stop-motion serial images of Eadweard Muybridge and other early photographers. And for this viewer the tracery of black lines over rich colors can't help evoking the stained glass window of a cathedral.

The Athenaeum was Kellner's first attempt at interior spaces. The show's catalog prints some stunning exterior views, done earlier, of the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, and a British country house. The Athenaeum images are much denser, a kind of visual orgy where towers of books dance crazily with tables and balconies. Either way, this is fascinating work.

Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell can be reached at camglobe[at]


The Harvard Crimson February 22, 2008

Photos Alter But Can't Shake Up

Taking an old classic and making it into something fresh always has a risk of disaster. There’s a chance that the update will have the same effect of hearing Britney cover “Satisfaction” or of sighting your gramps wearing bright blue skintight jeans, and that the result will be more disastrous than when Coke tried to update its signature beverage in 1985. In “All Shook Up,” the latest exhibition to grace the art gallery inside of the Boston Athenaeum, photographer Thomas Kellner presents a modern take on Boston’s oldest independent library that manages to be a fitting re-imagination instead of a hideous attempt at revision.

In July 2006, Kellner spent two weeks at the Boston Athenaeum on the eve of its 200th anniversary, serving as bicentennial artist-in-residence. The commissioned pictures of the Boston Athenaeum lend the building a “kinetic energy that metaphorically invokes the intellectual and cultural vitality of the institution,” according to Richard Wendorf, the director of the Athenaeum.

In Kellner’s photographic reconstructions of famous landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, the structure disassembles and seems to be dancing, breaking, or floating into air. He creates his works by taking individual photos of the architecture, which resemble tiles composing the whole. Kellner alters our usual perspective by tilting particular photos at angles. In this way, a formerly stable image in the world’s collective psyche can shift, to become a wavering mass of once-familiar images.

Although not as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, the Boston Athenaeum was one of the nation’s first independent libraries. Created in 1806, it quickly became a huge success. By 1851, it was one of the five largest libraries in the United States. Past members include Ralph Waldo Emerson, class of 1821, and John Quincy Adams, class of 1787. Nowadays, paid membership is still required. The building retains its 19th century feel through its architecture and interior design, as well as its aged patronage and solemn security guard.

Kellner’s depiction of the prestigious Athenaeum is modern, but not revolutionary. “In front of the director’s office on the 4th Floor” contains composite photos that tilt more as the pictures build vertically, so that the furniture grounds the picture while the books and ceiling are jumbled to resemble a distortion created by rising smoke, suggesting the room’s dissolution into air. In other pieces, the distant planes are skewed more than the foreground, raising questions about the accuracy of depth perception. Some works, like “Long Room with current magazines on the 2nd Floor,” practically beg to be seen close-up. Only then can the viewer inspect the tilted smaller photographs that meticulously compose the larger whole.

Kellner’s pieces evoke watery or kaleidoscopic visions, and yet each is visibly constructed. It is fitting that Kellner “builds” his works by photographing piece by piece. Unlike photographs that depend on chance to capture a moment, Kellner’s work depends on his initial concept and precise execution. He has a geometric eye that is calibrated for repetition, depth, and strong angles. He may share this sensibility with architects, but his photos take established buildings into another realm of playful imagery. As Kellner shifts the world of momuments by using photographs like tiles, it becomes re-arrangeable and malleable.

But despite the imaginative possibilities of photography that Kellner’s work taps into, his mission ultimately feels uncompelling. It is difficult to appreciate Kellner’s conception of the Athenaeum if the viewer has never seen the rooms in their original form. To explore the Athenaeum beyond the first floor, one must have a membership, so visitors to the exhibition will not see most of the rooms that Kellner jumbles.

If the pictures are meant to subvert our normal way of perceiving structures, this concept comes across more clearly on the photographer’s website. Under “Collections,” the Boston Athenaeum exhibition is presented piece by piece. First, a picture of the room is presented, then Kellner’s sketch of the room, and finally his redone portraits. When seen this way, Kellner’s re-configured pictures really do give new life to the classically beautiful rooms of the Athenaeum.

While visually appealing on their own, the works of “All Shook Up” would have been more successful if the exhibition presented Kellner’s pieces along with original pictures and sketches. Without an initial vision or memory, the viewers have nothing to revise, and the pictures lose their meaning as re-constructive works. Kellner’s images in “All Shook Up,” while revitalizing, are not revolutionary. They may not arouse any great emotions or cataclysmic questions, but, at the least, they’re very nice to look at.

—Staff writer Elsa S. Kim can be reached at elsakim[at]


Berkshire Fine Arts February 18, 2008

The Boston Athenaeum: All Shook Up
Photographs by Thomas Kellner
By: Erica H. Adams - 2008-02-18
“All Shook Up” is an exhibition of photographs as beautiful as Byzantine mosaic rocked by an earthquake; no reference to Elvis Presley. German artist-in-residence (2006) Thomas Kellner’s photographs deconstruct the Boston Athenaeum, a bastion of Brahmin culture founded in 1807 as a ‘reading room, library, a museum and laboratory’. Known for photographing world monuments, Kellner’s first interior is the Athenaeum’s newly renovated space. On view from February 13 – April 19, 2008 at 10 1/2 Beacon Street, in the Boston Athenaeum’s first floor, the full color catalogue of All Shook Up includes an introductory essay by Richard Wendorf.
Thomas Kellner (Bonn 1966) deploys world monuments and the Athenaeum’s interior, deconstructed in service of some unknown utopia. Each photograph’s intractable base rises-up in a quivering frenzy of architectural fragments suspended in air like ‘frozen music’ as architecture was called by German philosopher Goethe.  Monuments in Kellner’s hands become a liquid architecture.
A painter by training, the first monument Kellner photographed was the Eiffel tower (1889) inspired by Robert Delaunay’s faceted painting of this Parisian tourist destination. Delaunay’s simultaneity of form, similar to Kellner’s fractured photographs, is he said, more Orphist than Cubist. Orphism emphasized lyrical color instead of Cubism’s austere intellectualism of form.
In 1996, Kellner’s career began when he attempted to photograph the entire border of re-unified Germany with a pin-hole camera –all 3,728 miles or 6,000 kilometers of it.  Unable ‘figure out how to do it” he made a pin-hole camera with 11 pin-holes that recorded 11 images on a single negative strip. Ultimately, this led to Kellner’s technique for constructing photographs.
Total constructions, Kellner literally builds his photographs of architecture: each room is rendered in successive rows that rise up from a stable base. Each row is formed from a single filmstrip of entire roll of film. Moving from left to right, Kellner takes incremental shots across a room’s expanse. The angle of each frame ‘shot’ is calculated in his preparatory drawings on a grid: the horizontal base is rendered as  [ - - -] while upper elevations are diagonal [ /  \  /  \  ]. These suggest a rooted body and mobile mind. Kellner admits he often loses track of where he is on the upper patterns.
Where David Hockney’s early 1980’s Polaroid collages of peopled interiors are emotional and handmade Kellner’s architectures dissemble political structures and are photographic ‘hybrids’: at the ‘intersection of analog and digital film’ Kellner uses an industrial scanner to record and unify his rows of film strips then, digitally printed. The final image reveals what usually is not printed –frame numbers and sprocket holes –a practice used in much Sixties ‘personal’ documentary film to underline the media’s construction and question its factuality. The black frame heightens colors similar to how black lead lines enclose stained glass and allows the image to float as an apparition.
Structure has been the subject of much German photography from the 35 year study of plants by Karl Blossfeld  (1892-1957) that appear like cast metal sculptures to August Sander’s (1876-1964) cross-section of society during the Weimar Republic. Recently, Bernd Becher (1931-07) and his wife Hilla Becher (b. 1932) catalogued industrial buildings including water towers later translated by their students, Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) Candida Hofer (b. 1944) and, Thomas Ruff (b. 1954) frontal mapping of faces and institutional interiors. Kellner grew-up, he said, between the town where August Sander (1876-1964) photographed and in the village whose houses were the first subject of the Bechers.
Thomas Kellner’s vibrant work commemorates a turning point in U.S. history when dissembled monuments, social structures and their economies are on the brink of momentous change. The Boston Athenaeum has added Kellner’s work to its contemporary photography collection. Currently, also on view are photographs by Peter Vanderwarker and Shelburne Thurber. Before renovations, Richard Cheek photographed what’s considered one of the most handsome spaces in America. As renovations began, Thurber, known for her wistful odes to abandoned spaces, documented the Athenaeum’s appearance, in the “Fifth Floor with Rolled-Up Rug”. Post-renovation, Vanderwarker’s Athenaeum is a light filled sanctuary of learning whose extreme symmetry was purposely softened in the rennovation.  The Athenaeum’s collection of sculpture and paintings, in part transferred to the new Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1876, still includes Boston based painters often in Europe John Singer Sargent, and Washington Allston alongside life-long South End resident, African American painter Allen Crite.


The Boston Globe April 6th, 2008

'All Shook Up,' surrounded by books
By Ellen Steinbaum
Globe Correspondent / April 6, 2008

Looking at "All Shook Up," the exhibition on view at the Boston Athenaeum, reminds me of two quotations about books. Alfred Hitchcock, that 20th-century master of suspense, once said of a book he was reading, "This paperback is very interesting, but I find it will never replace a hardcover book - it makes a very poor doorstop." And Roman philosopher and orator Cicero, in the first century BC, said, "A room without books is like a body without a soul."
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While I wonder what these two very different men in two very different times would say about Kindle and audio books, I know they had one thing in common with each other and with the Athenaeum exhibition: They were looking at books as physical objects.

This is exactly what German photographer Thomas Kellner has done in "All Shook Up." Kellner generally photographs such architectural landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, or Times Square. Here he concentrates on the Athenaeum's interior spaces, using the presence of books to help define them. His process is unique, producing contact sheets of photographs taken in a precisely determined order that he deconstructs and reconstructs, turns and tilts to show us something familiar that we have not seen before.

In the Athenaeum group, shelves of books dance in juxtaposition to windows, columns, dark wooden tables, and lacy metal railings. It's a visual representation of that heady feeling you get in a library or bookstore where the air is filled with the buzz of books and the sense of what is contained in them. In Kellner's photographs, the jaunty angles turn the books into advertisements for themselves, enticing us - daring us - to pick just one.

The tilt of the elements and the black contact sheet edges that run through them create images reminiscent of stained glass, something that Richard Wendorf, the Athenaeum's Stanford Calderwood director and librarian, finds particularly apt.

"Libraries and museums are almost our secular cathedrals," he says. "They are the new important space for individual and community growth.

"In the interior of a very traditional library such as ours, kinetic movement animates the whole collection and has a visual energy that is a way of talking about the intellectual imagination and energy that lies within the books themselves."

In Kellner's photographs, the books appear filled with energy, each a tiny glimpse - like a single word - forcing us to look at pieces that make up the whole scene.

"They celebrate what's here and give us different ways of thinking about what is here," says Wendorf.

They may also offer a look at what might be there in the future for this 200-year-old institution, one of the country's first membership libraries. The Athenaeum also houses a major collection of visual art, so again there is the sense of books as objects, rather than only as containers of text.

Wendorf reminds me, in fact, that the word "text" carries intimations of weaving and is related to "textile," "context," and "texture." In that case, the "All Shook Up" photographs return books to their proper context, weaving them into the chairs, the lamps, and the walls so we can be surrounded and sheltered by what they have to offer.

"All Shook Up" is at the Boston Athenaeum, 10 1/2 Beacon St., until April 19 and is open to the public at no charge. Go to or to see images from the exhibition.

Return to the Center April 7 2008

you can't stop what's coming

all shook up

About 20 years ago there was an exhibition of some of David Hockney’s photo collages at the DeCodova Museum in Lincoln MA.  I’d never seen anything like it before and fell in love with them on the spot – the color – the near chaos – the repetitive patterning done with grid blocks of images – the different zoom levels – the motion.

Writing in the introduction to the show catalog “All Shook Up – The Photographs of Thomas Kellner”  Richard Wendorf, the Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum, says that:

    “…In Hockney’s view, his photographic compositions embody the “layering of time” and are therefore closely related to the grand project of Cubism, which was not about the structure of the object so much as “the structure of seeing the object.”  Most photographs, he argues, are devoid of life – of “lived time.”  They’re “all right if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralysed Cyclops – for a split second.  Hockey’s collages, on the other hand, are “about the way things catch your eye.”

D and I went into the Athenaeum yesterday afternoon to take in Thomas Kellner’s photograps, which like Hockney’s work are collages of distorted images and like Hockney’s images, Mr Kellner’s images are about the way things catch one’s eye.

Mr Kellner’s approach to collaging is much different from Mr Hockney’s in several regards. First he builds a very detailed grid of what photographs he will take of his subject and from what tilt angle the camera will be at when he takes the image.  He then, painstakingling builds up his photo collage from the bottom right to the top left by taking an image, swiveling his camera a set amount, taking another one and repeating.  When he prints his images, they are done as contact sheets. Mr Kellner spend two weeks at the Boston Athenaeum shooting its magnificent, sun drenched, colorful, book-filled rooms.  The results are stunning when seen “in the flesh”.

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