Jan Groover: Laboratory of Forms

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Two years after the donation of Groover’s entire archive, a major retrospective at Switzerland’s Musée de l’Elysée reflects on her influence and creative process

“I had some wild concept that you could change space — which you can,” said Jan Groover in a 1994 documentary about her work. “If the thing doesn’t look like the way I want it to look, I’ll try something else.” Groover created photographs from the late 1970s until her death in 2012. The artist is best-known for her ability to transform everyday implements and suburban street scenes into unusually beautiful experimentations of space and illusion.

The latest retrospective of her work, currently on show at Switzerland’s Musée de l’Elysée, looks back at Groover’s pioneering artworks  and investigates her creative process through archival drawings, equipment, and the artist’s personal collection of photography. The show arrives two years after the museum was gifted Groover’s entire archive by her husband and painter Bruce Boice. The exhibition presents 200 of Groover’s own images — from her first photograph to work that was made during the year she passed — alongside 50 photographs from her personal collection, which includes work by Edward Weston and Weegee. Groover’s camera equipment was donated to the Swiss Camera Museum, which has loaned one large banquet camera for the show.

© Jan Groover
© Jan Groover

“She was in between different genres of photography, but she had her own way of seeing the world, of expressing herself”

Tatyana Franck, director at  Musée de l’Elysée

© Jan Groover

Born in New Jersey in 1943, Groover began her career as a painter, but quickly moved into photography, adopting the same sensibilities that were present in the work of artists she admired, such as Giorgio Morandi, Cézanne, and Fra Angelico. “Groover was influenced by that history, but at the same time she developed a unique and unclassifiable way of expressing her own art,” says Tatyana Franck, director at  Musée de l’Elysée and co-curator of the exhibition with Émilie Delcambre Hirsch. “She was in between different genres of photography, but she had her own way of seeing the world, of expressing herself.”

© Jan Groover

A summary inventory of Groover’s archive tallied a total of 11,663 negatives, 525 slides, and 9,485 paper prints, along with unpublished drawings and all of her camera equipment.  “Jan Groover was not only interested in beautiful prints, but she was very much interested in techniques, and the artisanal way of making images,” says Franck. “We were very lucky to have been able to find a complete laboratory with all of her prints, negatives, everything was kept in her house.”

Along with the archive, Groover’s personal collection has also been an insightful acquisition. “We can see the team of artists she was interested in, spanning portraits, architecture, and landscape,” says Franck. “This is a big discovery, and it has helped us to better understand her creative process.”

Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms is on display at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, until 05 January 2020.

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner worked as an editor at BJP between 2018 and 2023. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.