CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
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New York Report: Photo Finishes

Arthur Siegel Untitled from the series In Search of Myself 1951 © Arthur Siegel Courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery New York

With this feature, Nancy Tousley begins a series of monthly reports for Canadianart.ca from Calgary and beyond. A contributing editor to Canadian Art, Tousley is currently critic in residence at the Alberta College of Art + Design following a long career as art critic at the Calgary Herald.

The opening of New York’s fall art season found photography laying claim to an unusually large amount of real estate in art galleries and museums, both uptown and down. The magnitude of shows—more than 100 at venues that are by no means all photography galleries—suggests that the medium has achieved a hard-won acceptance and that despite recessionary times, the market for photographs is strong.

Exhibitions large and small recast the entire history of the medium from different perspectives, look more deeply into the recent past and present the work of veteran artists and not-so-new-comers. Taken as a whole (though it’s impossible to see them all), the ensemble could constitute an education in the varieties of photographic experience. But on to shows seen.

 

The Museum of Modern Art offers not one but two ways of considering the history of photography. “The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today” (through November 1) is a fascinating exhibition of more than 300 works, bracketed by Willam Fox Talbot’s uncanny image of a bust of Patroclus and the “living sculptures” Gilbert and George, which explores the relationships between photography and one of its earliest subjects. Then there’s “Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography,” a revelatory show whose ironic title is double-edged. The male-dominated story of photography in which female photographers have been systematically underrepresented can indeed be handily reconstructed from their point of view of alone. On the day I was there, “Pictures by Women” was mobbed with visitors. (Opened in May, it continues to March 21, 2011.)

Each of the MOMA shows brought photography into the present with works by major figures like Hannah Wilke, Cindy Sherman, Ann Hamilton and Nan Goldin. To demonstrate how integrated photography has become, new colour photographs by Goldin and Andreas Gursky were on view during my visit at Matthew Marks as part of a new works show by gallery artists who included Katharina Fritsch, Robert Gober, Martin Honert, Charles Ray and Terry Winters. Simultaneously, Hiroshi Sugimoto held an important place in Pace Gallery’s 50th anniversary shows with his Henry VIII. Also showing were Sugimoto’s photos of the king’s six wives, all large black-and-white photographs of Madame Tussauds’ wax dummies.

 

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography” (through February 13, 2011) stages a face-off between the conceptualism of the 1960s and 70s and the return to established genres, influenced by conceptualism and painting, of the 1980s and 90s. The Met established the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography for exhibitions devoted to issues in the medium from the mid 60s onward. “Here and There” is on show there. In the Met’s smaller photography gallery, a powerful, graphically virtuosic black-and-white show (now closed) resurrected an unheralded street photographer with a look at the gritty side of life in “Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein‘s New York Photographs, 1950–1980.”

Lee Friedlander is at the Whitney with “America By Car,” an exhibition (through November 28) of 192 photographs taken during the past 15 years. With his characteristic acumen and dry visual wit, Friedlander frames, fragments and multiplies the American roadscape in the windshields, passenger windows and side- and rear-view mirrors of rentals he’s driven across the country. The abstracted interiors of the cars in these black-and-white photographs are surprisingly voluptuous. “Andy Warhol’s Street Diary: Photographs 1981–86” at Deborah Bell Photographs in Chelsea (through November 13) scrutinizes America, or rather New York, on foot. The 25 black-and-white prints on view are some of Warhol’s thousand-plus street photographs, and these are, perhaps, the most complexly “composed” works of Warhol’s career. They display his familiarity with modernist photography and his desire to emulate its tropes. Interestingly, for an artist so invested in mechanical reproduction, these are by and large unique images without duplicates.

 

Elsewhere in Chelsea, solo exhibitions of special note include the cameraless photography of Alison Rossiter at Yossi Milo, abstract images made by manipulating fresh and expired materials of analogue photography (through October 30). The just-closed Adam Fuss exhibition at Cheim & Read also stood out, featuring photograms made with live snakes. Fuss also exhibited three unusually large silvery daguerreotypes, one of which lay on the floor and displayed a vagina—his version of the door to the origins of life. Working with a camera, mirrors, glass and silver leaf, Bing Wright showed two series of photographs at Paula Cooper that also evidenced a fascination with photography’s magical alchemy.

“Beyond COLOR: Color in American Photography, 1950-1970,” at Chelsea’s Bruce Silverstein Gallery, might have been done by a museum. The show brought attention to groundbreaking figures who made colour photography during a period when the art world considered it second class; the exhibition (closed in mid-October) included dye transfer prints by Harry Callahan, Arthur Siegel, Ernst Haas and Eliot Porter, reflection-loving images by Saul Leiter and, most unexpectedly, a slideshow of colour transparencies by Garry Winogrand.

In addition to all this, my “sorry I missed it” list—which included Zwelethu Mthethwa’s big colour photographs of South African migrant workers at the Studio Museum; “The Mexican Suitcase,” rediscovered negatives by Robert Capa, Chim (David Seymour) and Gerda Taro at the International Center of Photography; and “New Photography 2010: Roe Ethridge, Elad Lassry, Alex Prager, Amanda Ross-Ho” at MOMA—was long.

 

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