Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spies in the House of Art: Photography, Film and Video @Met

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 14 photographic works (loosely defined) and 3 films/videos from 17 different photographers/artists. The works are variously framed and matted, and hung in a single room gallery space with a main dividing wall, with 1 video on display in a darkened curtained off area of the space and another shown in a nearby paintings gallery. The exhibit was curated by Douglas Eklund. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers/artists have been included in the exhibit, with the number of images on view and details in parentheses:

Diane Arbus (1 gelatin silver print, 1956)
Lutz Bacher (1 single channel video, 2002)
Lothar Baumgarten (1 chromogenic print, 1969/1985)
Sophie Calle ( 1 work comprised of 1 gelatin silver print, 2 chromogenic prints and text, 1986)
Joseph Cornell (1 box, 1950)
Tim Davis (1 chromogenic print, 2003)
Andrea Fraser (1 video, 1989)
Candida Höfer (1 chromogenic print, 1988)
Laura Larson (1 gelatin silver print, 1998)
Louise Lawler (1 silver dye bleach print, 1997)
Peter Nagy (1 laminated photocopy, 1985)
Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer (1 color film, 2006)
John Pilson (1 archival pigment print, 2007)
Cindy Sherman (1 chromogenic print, 1989)
Lorna Simpson (1 screen print on felt, with text, 1998)
Thomas Struth (1 chromogenic print, 1988)
Francesca Woodman (1 diazo collage, 1980)

Comments/Context: The latest thematic installation in the Met's contemporary photography gallery is narrower and more self-reflective than nearly all of the shows that have come before it in this same space. This particular gathering revolves around the relationship between artists and museums, running the gamut from inspiration and investigation to critique and deconstruction. It's a relatively small idea, but there are enough well-selected pictures here to examine the concept from plenty of competing angles.

I don't think it's at all surprising that Struth, Höfer, Sherman, and Lawler are part of this show; they seem like relatively obvious foundation inclusions. The real jaw dropper for me was the incredibly huge Francesca Woodman mural made of photographs on blueprint paper (in the top installation shot). In it, Woodman includes five versions of herself as caryatids, holding up the roof of a collaged together temple; it has much the same intimacy as her diminutive photographs, but on a grand, billowy scale. Nashashibi and Skaer's film Flash in the Metropolitan (found in the darkened portion of the room) is also a standout. Taken in the halls of the museum at night, a strobe light bathes the cases and statues in momentary flashes of brightness, an ancient head or obscure object emerging from the darkness to be recognizable for just a moment before disappearing once again. It's a spooky inversion of the museum going experience, ghostly and fleeting rather than timeless and enduring. And John Pilson's photograph of a stylish 1920s period room interrupted by an anachronistic camera and microphone is a lesser known but smart choice, quietly witty in its upending of the controlled environment of the museum exhibit.
This is a tighter, less sprawling selection of works than previous thematic incarnations, and I think it holds together as a complete thought much better as a result. There are artworks and patrons as reusable subject matter (in a Sophie Calle multi-part work, a Rodin sculpture is thought to have "a terrific ass"), juxtapositions and relationships created by the museum setting (Laura Larson's unexpected alignment of wallpaper, settee, and carpet), and riffs on looking and seeing (one of Tim Davis' faces in paintings obscured by glare images). All in, this is a neat little package, perhaps not groundbreaking, but certainly thoughtful and well-edited.

Collector's POV: Given this is a museum show, there are obviously no posted prices for the works on display.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Review: NY Times (here)
Through August 26th

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

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