“The Museum Archive (dedicated to Edward Steichen’s Delphiniums, MOMA 1936),” 2014. Glass, resin, plants, beam splitter glass, photo gels, photographic prints and film. Photo: James Prinz
On an afternoon in June of 1936, the Museum of Modern Art opened what was perhaps its most delicate, if not most abbreviated temporary exhibition—“Edward Steichen’s Delphiniums,” MoMA’s first and only flower exhibition, on view for a mere week. The entirely unique breed of delphiniums were hybridized by Steichen, an influential photographer who would eventually direct MoMA’s department of photography, whom few recognize as a comparably influential horticulturist. Today, the legacy of his eponymous exhibition is brokered strictly through photographic and archived printed matter. Steichen’s exhibition is remarkable in its attention to the temporal nature of the exhibition format and a subsequently acute dependence on future access via the archive. What relevance might this exhibition have as a wide interest in archives emerges throughout contemporary art practices? Read the rest of this entry »
Lynn Saville, “West 125th St, NYC”
The accent is on the aesthetic surface rather than the depiction of the subject in the contrasting approaches of architectural photographers Lynn Saville and Reuben Wu, both of whom shoot structures at middle distance and in color, and each investing their subjects with a distinct sensibility.
A visual commentator on the great recession and its ravages, Saville goes out at night to capture eviscerated stores through their plate-glass fronts, bathed in glowing electric light verging on garish neon; her subjects are not yet ruins, but they could become so if economic recovery does not reach them. The play between the dazzling come-on of the light show and the abandoned commercial spaces creates a pure seductive effect; there is nothing behind the gleaming visual wrapping, no baubles to buy.
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Don’t look for earnest street photographs here. This art is based on research rather than on sentiment. Even so, an aesthetic emerges—cool, peevish and smart. Christopher Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1956, and is currently professor of photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Although he has had several exhibitions in Europe, this is his first American museum retrospective. Williams is a second-generation Conceptualist; his teachers included masters John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler.
Despite the diversity of artworks (early photos, text panels and appropriated imagery) what ties everything together here is the theme of production—in industry, in photography and even in display. It should no longer shock that many of Williams’ photographs, including the famous image of a tipped-over Renault (shades of Paris in 1968), were actually taken by a professional at the artist’s orders. Read the rest of this entry »
“Snake Girl,” circa 1960
Back in the day when Detroit was Motown, making Thunderbirds and coating the cosmos with pop soul, Bill Rauhauser was out on the streets with his camera, funky as one can get, shooting freak-show signage, a Shriners parade, teenagers cavorting in the lake, ordinary undignified people and musicians plying their trade, all in black and white, and all with an indulgent tongue-in-cheek smile. Those were the days, it would seem, although the other sixties—the riots and the protests—presaged the post-industrial pit into which the city has fallen, at least in the public mind. Read the rest of this entry »
“Blanket on Asphalt,” cut photographic print, 2013
Curtis Mann’s latest exhibition is hung entirely backwards on the wall. That is, only the unprinted versos of his photographic prints face the viewer. All over these glossy white surfaces many semicircular slits have been sliced. Folded back, these slits reveal a fragmented view of the photo’s other side: scenes from the artist’s studio. The fluttery effect is that of peering through a textured window to glimpse a room’s interior.
The invention of photography more than two centuries ago caused art to undergo its most significant transformation, yet the medium itself is still susceptible to change. Mann continues to redefine photography, especially its material potential. The artist is previously known for his photographs of war in the Middle East that were featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. In these photographs he used physical processes of manipulation such as bleaching and dying to erase parts of the images and dramatize the violence. Read the rest of this entry »
Clarissa Bonet, untitled, 2013
“Chicago Style,” curated by Matthew Avignone (of The Coat Check gallery), this group show of sixty-eight images by thirty-four emerging photographers from Chicago and its surrounding region packs a hard visual punch—never easy, comfortable or conventional, but also never mordant, preachy, sentimental, nostalgic or horrific. There is no common sensibility; there is a shared vitality that left this viewer with a lasting infusion of energy, and an edge that is never softened by pictorialist dreaminess: This is Chicago as we often like to think of it. Ranging from straight realism to abstraction, all of the images are technically accomplished and most of all have involving and freshly rendered subjects that we have seen before but never as they appear here. The abstractions dominate the show, because they communicate the intensity that unifies it without diluting the impact with ordinary associations. Read the rest of this entry »
“Altostratus or Nimostratus. The Sun/Moon Can’t Be Seen,” 2013
The photographs and sculptures of Carson Fisk-Vittori unabashedly employ the design tactics of advertising and commercial art. Artworks that contain shampoo bottles, hair sprays and dishwashing soap almost come across as absurdist product endorsements rather than works of fine art. The products are usually integrated with incongruous objects such as a potted plant, or are found placed on minimalist sculptures that act as shelves. On a wall painted entirely green is a photograph of a cellphone being held up by a plant-shaped stand, giving the impression that the phone is some kind of perverse yet natural outgrowth. In a nearby work, an oyster-shaped soap dish is placed on top of an image of a garden plant, which in turn is resting on women’s razor blades. Read the rest of this entry »
“09 11 19, 2010,” from the series “Mum”
Straight out of the Lone Star State, hyper-postmodern Texas photographer Nancy Newberry turns her sophistication back on its kitschy roots, offering staged color scenario portraits of subjects enacting the ritual of wearing American-pop-baroque ornamented garb or crowded-collaged corsages dominated by mums for events like homecoming day. The enactment of Newberry’s concept could take myriad forms: a dignifying humanist treatment (impossible for her), the former with tongue in cheek, a sarcastic stereotyped put down, and so on. Newberry’s particular sensibility is centered in a gentle sense of the ridiculous that allows her to save her postmodern conscience and creds, and to stay on the nice side of the line between irony and mockery. A good example of Newberry’s brand of visual wit is her scenario of a young adolescent girl standing erect on a sloping shingled roof, barefooted and draped in her flowing, consuming corsage with its copious ribbons covering her; the expression on her face betrays some apprehension that has not yet become panic, a sense of unsteadiness that is quite understandable given her situation. With that image, Newberry alerts us that she has placed herself at the antipodes of the cultural documentary and the humanist portrait, opting for postmodern play with the cultural practice, emptied of reverence and nostalgia. Read the rest of this entry »
Sarah Morris, video still from “Chicago,” 2011
“Chicago,” a 2011 film by Sarah Morris, is the centerpiece of the MCA’s new exhibition, “City Self.” Morris’ flood of telescopic images of our city, accompanied by an electronic score written by her husband Liam Gillick, and projected on a movie screen, presents a seamless digital spectacle of the twenty-first-century city. The camera never lingers on anything or anyone too long; its detachment mirrors our own loss of agency in the phantasmagoric flow. Gallery visitors can screen the entire film or wander in and out.
Grids and infrastructure are foregrounded in Morris’ sixty-eight-minute film, creating the visual implication that the gridded surfaces of Mies’ buildings are truly an expression of the deep structure of the city, and some breathtaking shots of the Lake Shore Drive apartments set Chicago aside from any other global city. Extended sequences of the giant presses where the Tribune and other papers are printed, the still-modernist compositions of pipes that protect the miles of filament and cable at Fermilab and huge mainframe computers (humming electronically like the score) there and other places. Morris and her cinematographer David Daniels reveal the blank material structures and technological non-places that create cyberspace and control the flow of digital images. Read the rest of this entry »
“Site (Community Vineyard)”
Utopian communities, which flourished in the United States during the nineteenth century and had a brief revival in the 1960s, aimed at creating a heaven on earth, or at least a more cooperative society than the one being put in place by competitive capitalism. Regina Mamou is fascinated by what has become of those nineteenth-century experiments, taking her camera to their surviving sites, which have been preserved from ruin and memorialized as minor tourist attractions, bringing back shadowy medium-format color photographs unified by an unrelieved somber sensibility. Read the rest of this entry »