Monograph published by Radius Books

Photos by Renate Aller
Essay by David Anfam

Published by Radius Books

Link to order book:
Publisher, Radius Books

Publication date: Fall 2012


  • Photographs by Renate Aller. Text by Dr David Anfam.
  • Hardbound, Hand bound Limited Edition numbered and signed accordion book, 22 pages, 17 x 13 inches
  • ISBN: 978-1-934435-56-4
  • Limited Edition$350.-

dicotyledon is published in a limited edition of 250 copies, each signed and numbered by the artist.


About the artist

Born in Germany, Renate Aller lives and works in New York City. Her work is in the collection of corporate institutions, private collectors and museums, including Chazen Museum of Art – University of Wisconsin; The Yale University; The George Eastman House, International Museum for Photography and Film, Rochester, New York; The New Britain Museum of American Art, CT; The New Mexico Museum of Art; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; and the Lannan Foundation, NM; among others.


About the writer

David Anfam’s many publications include Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas—A Catalogue Raisonné (1998), Willem de Kooning: Garden in Delft (2004), No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock—Paintings on Paper (2005) and Anish Kapoor (2009). In 2003 Anfam was the Henry Luce Visiting Professor in American Art, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University. Anfam has also curated Bill Viola’s Ocean Without a Shore for the 52nd Venice Biennale. His awards include the Mitchell Prize for the History of Art (2000) and The Umhoeffer Prize for Achievement in Humanities (2009). Anfam is currently Commissioning Editor for Fine Art at Phaidon Press and Adjunct Curator, Clyfford Still Museum, Denver.


Transience, by David Anfam

From its beginnings, photography has sought what must always be a pyrrhic victory: to wrest fixity from the flux of appearances. Put philosophically, the medium aspires to impose being upon becoming. This is why, as Susan Sontag and many others have observed, the implicit matrix underlying a photograph is that paradigm of Western thought, Plato’s allegory of the cave. In Plato’s cave, shadowy surfaces and traces entrance human beings even as they yearn for some higher, immutable truth shining from elsewhere. Whether it be the quickest snapshot on a mobile phone or the monumental panoramas created by Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, one common trait obtains. Each voices—albeit altogether differently—what Hart Crane memorably discerned in Alfred Stieglitz’s images. An urge to make the moment eternal. Such a wish is, of course, self-defeating. Why? Regardless of whether the little jpeg or the large cibachrome print physically survives for a second or forever, we do not. Living in time, we experience art, no matter how vivid its presence, in passing. As the old jingle has it, “Time goes you say? Ah no! Alas, time stays, we go.” Ars longa, vita brevis. To my eye, Renate Aller’s work draws its cool emotionalism from this aspect of the human condition.

Romanticism provides the background for Aller’s photographs. From Keats’s Grecian Urn to Faust’s “Verweile doch, du bist so schön!” and such latter day offspring as Bo Widerberg’s film Elvira Madigan (1967), “the Romantic agony” (as the cultural historian Mario Praz described it) has fed upon the conflict between passing clock time (chronos) and a more subjective or spiritual sense of duration (kairos). Indeed, for every Newtonian bid to measure the world with clinical detachment—from the Enlightenment, through the Industrial Revolution, and unto the virtual present—there has been a Blake or Novalis for whom, once the doors of perception are cleansed, that selfsame reality waxes infinite. In instances as various as Constable’s clouds, Turner’s seas, American Luminism’s preternatural clarity, Runge’s enchanted Times of Day cycle and Friedrich’s mists or mornings, Romantic painting explored this dichotomy, swinging between empiricism and the ideal. So does Aller’s camera. She bestows upon people and landscape an uncanny aura, though the subjects remain resolutely themselves in their minute detail and iconic immediacy. Consequently, they are at once theatrical (that is, confrontational, as Michael Fried defined the term) and oddly self-effacing in the tradition of Daguerre’s aim to “rob nature” in order to “produce the most complete illusion”. Water and sky, faces, flora and fauna here stand before us like nouns, the taxonomy for some natural history whose ultimate purpose is obscure. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke knew this strange mix of facticity and unbelonging. Aller’s deer, osprey and horse recall the sentient watchers of The First Elegy:

and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in
our interpreted world.

To which disquiet Rilke’s Ninth Elegy replied:

Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit tree, window…
But to say them you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing

Dicotyledon has something of this Rilkean acuity towards a latent unease about our place in the scheme of things.

Aller orchestrates a strange colloquy in which the participants congregate but do not converse. Ancient roots oppose empty blue sky; a bird of prey hovers, ambiguously, above a nest; a dreamer lies beside a dark wood; and a child turns his back on a twilit landscape, confronting us. There seems to be a plot without any narrative. The parts have an order though they are not in order. What is missing is a larger whole, a site in which these isolates can be at home. Instead they are refugees from an absent Heimat. Beauty, desire and loss are at stake. They were, too, when Sigmund Freud took a summer walk through a “smiling countryside” in 1913 on the eve of the Great War. The result was his meditation, On Transience, in which the gloomy thoughts of his fellow traveler that day—disturbed “that all this beauty was fated to extinction”—led Freud to conclude that transitoriness increases, rather than diminishes, the value of existence and things. It may be coincidence that the psychologist’s companion then was the young Rilke. More certain, however, is that Aller’s vision is a twenty-first century heir to this ancestry of loveliness and poignant longing.

© Art Ex Ltd 2012


Radius Books is a tax-exempt, 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization founded in 2007, whose mission is to encourage, promote and publish books of artistic and cultural value. Books give an accessible form to rich and complex creative visions. They become the vehicles for beauty, reflection and change. In this spirit, Radius Books donates copies of every title we publish to libraries and schools, with the hope and expectation that these books will reach and inspire new and expanding audiences. Radius Books titles are distributed to the trade by Distributed Art Publishers (D.A.P.). Limited editions are available at selected galleries and directly through the publisher.

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Binding: Mark Tomlinson
Design: David Chickey
Project development: Dan Frieber
Printed in the U.S.


Copyright © 2012 Radius books
All artwork © 2012 Renate Aller
Transience © 2012 Art Ex Ltd

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, altered, trimmed, laminated, mounted, or combined with any text or image to produce any form of derivative work. Nor may any part of this book be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Plate 9 | dicotyledon