Monday, August 16, 2010

The Magnum Mark: Selections from the Magnum Photos Archive @FLAG Art Foundation

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing final prints, press prints, contact sheets, print maps, story notes, books, and other ephemera from the Magnum Photos Archive. The exhibition is loosely divided into sections, all displayed in the upper gallery space (on the 10th floor, installation shots at right). These include:
  • a group of "Magnum Classics" displayed over a series of walls near the stairs; all the prints are framed in silver and matted
  • a section of African images by George Rodger, including 7 prints, 3 type-written story texts, and 3 glass cases holding binders of contact sheets, notes, and magazine spreads
  • a group of print maps, each series showing a "before" print, prints with markings, and an "after" print, pinned directly to the wall under glass
  • a set of images framed so that both sides of the print are visible, to enable the viewer to see the many stamps and markings on the back
  • a series of 10 video screens along one wall, showing photographic stills in rotation
  • a projection showing a montage of images, alternating with profiles on specific photographers
  • an assortment of Magnum books/monographs on the reading desks
The following photographers are included in the various sections below, with the number of images on view in parentheses:

Magnum Classics

Abbas (1)
Eve Arnold (1)
Rene Burri (1)
Bruce Davidson (1)
Elliott Erwitt (2)
Stuart Franklin (1)
Philippe Halsman (2)
Josef Koudelka (1)
Steve McCurry (1)
Inge Morath (1)
Marc Riboud (2)

Print Maps

Burt Glinn (4)
Susan Meiselas (3)
Inge Morath (3)
David Seymour (4)
Dennis Stock (3)

Double Sided Images (framed to see both front and back)

Eve Arnold (2)
Burt Glinn (1)
Hiroshi Kubota (1)
Guy Le Querrec (1)
Constantine Manos (1)

Comments/Context: Earlier this year, Michael Dell's MSD Capital purchased a massive archive of press prints from Magnum Photos (those prints used up through 2003) and announced that the collection would ultimately be housed at the Harry Ransom Center at U Texas Austin. The FLAG Art Foundation (founded several years ago in Chelsea by collector Glenn Fuhrman, one of the managing partners of MSD Capital) is now showing a small sampler of these prints, giving us a taste for the many educational and art historical opportunities that lie within the archive.

While there are plenty of well-known, "classic" Magnum images on display, the real interest in this show lies beyond the obvious greatest hits. One large wall contains sets of images printed by Pablo Inirio, Magnum's in-house printer. They show his working process, from the initial prints from the negative, to detailed maps of dodging and burning regions and elapsed time periods, to the final images; it's a fascinating study of the intricacies of great old-school analog printing, as applied to James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Susan Meiselas' carnival strippers.

Along an adjacent wall, a series of press prints have been sandwiched between glass, allowing the viewer to see both sides. The back of each print is a cluttered mass of credit stamps, consignment numbers, barcodes, archive stamps, and terms of use; a large wall diagram helps decode all the different markings. Armed with this information, each print is transformed into an historical object, a physical thing which has traveled a long and winding road from photographer to viewer. Unraveling the mysteries and connections of all these stamps and notations will clearly be a rich area for further scholarly exploration.

A bank of video screens and a changing overhead projection offer a stark contrast to the details of the physical prints; the images swim by endlessly, creating a sense of visual overload, where it becomes nearly impossible to single out just one image for patient looking. Digital display technologies are clearly offering new ways to see photographs, and these media pose complicated questions about how a physical archive like Magnum's should be managed most successfully in a 21st century world.

Overall, this show has a solid mix of old favorites and arcane details and will appeal most to those who want to dig a bit deeper into the minutiae of Magnum's long success.

Collector's POV: While this is not a selling show, most of the images in the Magnum Classics section of the exhibit, along with a few other images from other sections, are available from time to time in the secondary markets, and many of the best known Magnum photographers have gallery representation outside the photo agency, so interested collectors have plenty of options for following up. UPDATE: the folks in Magnum's print sales department have reminded me that prints of most of the images on view in the exhibit are available directly from Magnum, and that there are Magnum fine art advisors available to work with collectors in New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Magnum Photos website (here)
The Magnum Mark: Selections from the Magnum Photos Archive
Through September 10th

FLAG Art Foundation
545 West 25th Street
9th Floor
New York, NY 10001

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