Monday, March 23, 2009

This Is Not a Fashion Photograph @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A total of 75 images, nearly all black and white prints, framed in black and densely packed on a red ledge that runs the length of the walls of the one room gallery. A few images are hung above the ledge in an uneven second row. There is no wall text beyond the introduction; a laminated spiral bound booklet is available as background. 61 different photographers are represented in the exhibit, mostly from the 20th century. (Unfortunately, there are no installation shots for this exhibit; ironically, no photography is allowed at the ICP. An incomplete set of thumbnail images can be found on the ICP website below; one of the images, Malick Sidibé's Nuit de Noel, 1962, is at right.)

Comments/Context: This group show now on view at the ICP is ostensibly a foil to the various fashion exhibits currently being displayed, theoretically riffing on the themes and cliches of fashion photography found in a wide variety of vintage material completely unrelated to fashion. I say theoretically, as while there are plenty of pictures of people in stylish clothing, or making dramatic gestures, or wearing striking hats in this show, the connection to fashion is tenuous at best, and in the end I think, completely unnecessary.
Guest curator Vince Aletti has gathered together and carefully sequenced a witty, clever, and ultimately very satisfying group show of people pictures. Chaotically hung and jammed together, it feels like the work of an obsessed collector (which is of course, coming from us, the highest of praise). This is a show that merits following the images in specific order, as Aletti has made each one connect to its neighbor, in a subtle game of echoes of posture, stance, gesture, and expression, not to mention the obvious similarities in hats, glasses, and clothing. There are lots of individually great pictures mixed in (both known and unknown), which resonate more in the context of those hung nearby. This is a "collector" with a good eye, who knew what he was doing; as such, it will likely be one of the best edited group shows of the year.

Collector's POV: Since this show is entirely focused on images of people, there weren't many specific fits for our collection. That said, I particularly enjoyed seeing the Sidibé, Nuit de Noel, in person, as we have been thinking more about this artist of late (see a recent book review here); I also enjoyed Leon Levinstein's Lower East Side, 1969, a woman in a crazy striped dress.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

This Is Not a Fashion Photograph: Selections from the ICP Collection
Through May 3

1133 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

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