Titian, Danaë (c. 1555), Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: Richard Nagler

For his new collection of images, Berkeley photographer Richard Nagler spent a lot of time in museums. He also spent a lot of time waiting. Stationed in front of a work of art, he would wait for someone to come along and complete it. The serendipitous, unposed results come from both Nagler’s creative eye as well as his patience.

Looking at Art, The Art of Looking, published by Berkeley’s Heyday Press, and launching tomorrow night at Mrs Dalloway’s bookstore in Berkeley, is the culmination of all those hours spent at major art museums around the world. 

Ellsworth Kelly, Cite (1951), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The “perfect juxtaposition” is something of a specialty for Nagler. In his third book, Word on the Street, he shot images of one person and one word in cities including Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley. The photos show the fortuitous juxtapositions of a single word of type — whether on a billboard, sign or scratched into a wall — and a human being who happens to pass by and, in that split second, creates a meaningful image through Nagler’s lens.

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Richard Nagler

In Looking at Art, Nagler shows us art’s need to be transformed and given meaning by humanity. As Malcolm Margolin, Heyday’s publisher, writes in the introduction to the book, “In these astounding encounters between art and viewer, there’s often the feeling of a tryst, a secret meeting of lovers, and each of these ‘lovers’ is amplified and changed by the experience. By echoing the imagery or theme of the artwork, the viewer in the photograph takes on some of the power of the art. Similarly the artwork takes on added depth by its momentary association with the person viewing it.”

And of course, there are more layers — as we gaze at Nagler’s photographs we are looking at images of people who are themselves looking, as, off-stage, Nagler also looks.

Nagler, who says he didn’t visit an art museum until he was a senior in college, says in his afterword to the book that he aims to make new layers of art upon the old. “I am inspired by the human dance that takes place in front of great works of art and the accidental and beautiful juxtapositions that can occur.”

The photographs may make us laugh, be subtle, obvious, poignant, or touching. They draw us in and ask for our attention.

Gottfried Helnwein, Epiphany II (Adoration of the Shepherds) (1998), de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Photo: Richard Nagler

Visit Richard Nagler’s website for a preview of the photographs published in Looking at Art, The Art of Looking. 

A launch party for the book takes place at Mrs Dalloway’s bookstore, 2904 College Ave. Berkeley on Friday June 20 at 7:30 p.m.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...