Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Photography in the Fall Previews

Two leading voices in the art world, Artforum and New York, published their Fall Previews of upcoming art exhibits this past week. While we already have a long list of good looking photo shows on our hit list, I was curious to see which photography exhibits in New York and elsewhere might be highlighted by these esteemed critics.

Artforum featured 50 exhibits worldwide in its September 2009 issue (the list is not yet available on their website, but it will eventually be here). To my eye, there was only one pure play photography exhibit in the list:

The Subversion of Images @Centre Pompidou (a survey of Surrealist photography)

There were six others that will include some terrific photography, but are not by definition really photography exhibits:

Gabriel Orozco @MoMA
Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity @MoMA
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention @Jewish Museum
Gordon Matta-Clark @Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes
John Baldessari @Tate Modern
Lázló Moholy-Nagy @Schirn Kunstahalle

Jerry Saltz of New York magazine selected 15 exhibits for his list of "Want-to-Sees" (his whole list can be found here). Only one is a pure play photography exhibit:

Justine Kurland @Mitchell-Innes & Nash

A second falls into the sort-of photography camp:

Sarah Anne Johnson: House on Fire @Julie Saul

In many ways, these two lists left me scratching my head: these shows are the best and most interesting of what the entire world of photography has to offer this fall? Seriously? And then I looked back to my own exhaustive list of photo shows coming up in New York, and there seem to be plenty that seem likely to be exciting or startling, including Sally Mann, Jeff Wall, and Nicholas Nixon, among quite a few others of interest. So where's the disconnect?

The point of this post is not to bellyache about the sad state of photography criticism (I've done that plenty already). While it might be easy to find fault with the critics, I actually think the onus falls back on the gallery owners and museum curators to rectify the problem of photography's low profile. The crucial issue is that much of contemporary photography does not seem to be being recognized by the wider audience at large as relevant to the bigger art world issues of the day; unfortunately, we're still in a corner talking to ourselves and few are looking to us to be leaders.

The only way out of this trap is excellence. If we want attention for the photographers that we feel deserve better recognition, we must have a deeper roster of world class museum exhibitions and gallery shows that bring this photography to the forefront and we need to do a better job of making the case to the public that they're important. So rather than mutter that these critics are out of touch with photography, I think a better reaction to these Fall Previews is that as a community, we need to redouble our efforts to deliver the spine tingling excellence that the market requires.

UPDATE: Artnet magazine recently posted its Top Twenty Shows (here). There were four photography inclusions:

Irving Penn: Small Trades @Getty
Common Ground: Eight Philadelphia Photographers in the 1960s and 1970s @Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Provoke Era: Postwar Japanese Photography @SFMOMA
On the Scene: Jason Lazarus, Wolfgang Plöger, Zoe Strauss @Art Institute of Chicago

It's interesting to note that in terms of photography, there was no overlap with the Artforum choices.


Todd Walker said...

I have been scouring gallery Web sites in preparation of my own previews and I'm seeing a lot of exciting stuff by photographers previously unknown to me. So it was disappointing to see Saltz's Kurland selection since it is so obviously "arty".

Todd Walker said...

This issue of "New York" finally arrived in my hinterlands mailbox this afternoon. I suppose it doesn't count that Karen Schoemer opened the Art preview section with Frank's "The Americans" at the Met?

dlkcollection said...

Todd is of course right that there is a preview of the Frank show in the paper copy of New York. I decided not to talk about it for two reasons. First, I encountered Saltz' list on the Internet first, disembodied from the magazine, and thus unrelated (at least when I read it) to the other articles there. I think many others will find it this way, and thus the magazine context isn't as relevant. Second, I think Saltz is an important individual voice in art criticism; what he writes holds more weight than many other writers and people listen to what he says. So while that other preview is clearly a photography preview of a good looking show, I decided not discuss it in the context of my post. (My guess is that Saltz already saw the Frank show in San Francisco or Washington.) But I do realize that another reasonable person might make a different decision.

J. Wesley Brown said...

Well, have you *seen* the new Jeff Wall works? Nothing to write (home) about. Reminds me of a Stones album from the 90's.