Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Photography 2012 @MoMA

JTF (just the facts): A group show of the work of six contemporary photographers (4 individuals and 1 partnership), variously framed and matted, and hung in a divided two room gallery on the 3rd floor. The exhibit was curated by Eva Respini. (Installation shots at right.)
The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view and image details in parentheses:
  • Michele Abeles: (9 pigmented inkjet prints, framed in white and unmatted, from 2009-2012)
  • Birdhead (Ji Weiyu and Song Tao): (1 group of 71 gelatin silver prints, tacked directly to the wall in a grid, overlaid with 8 additional photographs set in mahogany frames, from 2012)
  • Anne Collier: (4 chromogenic color prints, framed in white and unmatted, from 2009-2012)
  • Zoe Crosher: (1 group of 11 chromogenic color prints (including 1 set of 15 images mounted together), mostly framed in white with no mat (two are mounted and unframed), from 2012)
  • Shirana Shahbazi: (4 chromogenic prints, 3 gelatin silver prints, and 1 wallpaper lithograph with applied pigment, framed in white/black and unmatted, from 2011-2012)
Comments/Context: This year's annual roundup of new photography at the MoMA follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and opts for inclusive diversity as its overriding theme. Given the explosion of image making triggered by the digital revolution and coupled with the loosening definitions and boundaries of the medium, this would seem like a safe and prudent choice. But with today's backdrop of tumultuous innovation and risk-taking experimentation, I have to say I was surprised at how dull and expected this show is. It covers bases and samples styles (especially those with a conceptual bent), but ultimately fails to get out to the edges and bring back something fresh and brilliant.
In my view, the overwhelming standout in this show is Michele Abeles. What's exciting about her work is that it both collapses several discrete genres (nude, still life, studio staging) and throws the results into the digital mixer, flattening out the space and cutting it into misaligned strips and layers. Odd juxtapositions of male bodies, plywood, printed fabrics, potted plants, wine bottles, engineering drawings, and colored filters lead to puzzlingly complex groupings, which are then further upended by digital stitching and rework, creating woven plaids and jittering lines of image fragments. I like the clash of ideas in these pictures, as well as the smart integration of digital wizardry; the photographs feel like the beginnings of something truly original and invigorating.
The other four bodies of work are all accomplished, of course, but don't really offer wildly compelling or particularly new paths forward. Anne Collier sharply recontextualizes printed ephemera (album covers, magazine ads, a MoMA event calendar with a Weston nude), forcing the viewer to reconsider embedded stereotypes and biases. Zoe Crosher immerses herself in the appropriated archive of a 1970s woman, rephotographing and altering her subject's Mae West poses and fantasy lives in a Cindy Sherman-esque study of identity. Birdhead furiously snaps offhand black and white images of the vitality of everyday Shanghai, finding the energy of self-centered youth in a city of bridges, TV towers, and palm trees. And Shirana Shahbazi pairs commercial-style abstractions in bold color with the parallel visual motifs of a jagged mountain or a diver in flight.
So while this show certainly covers many of the key themes in today's photographic dialogue (it's all appropriately "on trend"), the overall feeling of the exhibit is more like a checklist of the topics we're supposed to be discussing rather than a discovery or championing of groundbreaking ideas. As we might expect, there's China, and appropriation, and archives, and digital manipulation, and image proliferation, and commercial approaches, and crossing medium boundaries, but aside from the impressive chaos of Michele Abeles, much of the output is less than memorable.
Collector's POV: Given this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices. The photographers in the exhibit are represented by the following galleries:
  • Michele Abeles: 47 Canal (here)
  • Birdhead: ShanghART Gallery (here)
  • Anne Collier: Anton Kern Gallery (here)
  • Zoe Crosher: Perry Rubenstein (here)
  • Shirana Shahbazi: Galerie Bob Van Orsouw (here)
None of these artists has any meaningful history in the secondary markets, so gallery retail will likely be the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Exhibition site (here)
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker (here), Time LightBox (here), New Yorker PhotoBooth (here), Capital New York (here)
  • Michele Abeles artist site (here)
  • Zoe Crosher artist site (here)
Through February 4th 
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

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