Margaret Morton: A Retrospective
Leica Gallery, New York
Margaret Morton, from Glass House. Courtesy Leica Gallery
Like the Alphabet City squatters she photographed in the late 1990s, Margaret Morton is a vanishing breed. A modern-day Jacob Riis, she has spent 25 years photographing the homeless in New York City, documenting ad-hoc communities that sprung up in subway tunnels, an abandoned glass factory, or encampments along the East River or the Lower East Side. This retrospective, at Leica Gallery through August 15, highlights 25 years of socially concerned documentary photography, including some examples of a recent project photographing the ancestral cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan.
In The Tunnel, published in book form by Yale in 1995 and possibly her best-known series, Morton photographed one of the oldest homeless communities in New York City, a society of people living, invisible to the rest of the city, in an abandoned freight tunnel on the Upper West Side. Her photographs – inky black expanses broken by shafts of light streaming through a sidewalk grate or by the soft glow of a hurricane lamp – are as compassionate as they are arresting.
Margaret Morton, from The Tunnel. Courtesy Leica Gallery
Her photographs of tarp and plywood shelters along the East River or on the Lower East Side, from the series Fragile Dwelling, reveal details of domesticity, from scavenged decorations to cooking utensils to more elaborate accumulations, like a small yard filled with dolls, teddy bears, and other stuffed animals. Morton navigates potentially tricky territory for a photographer: her images are detailed and poignant without being sentimental or exploitive. “From the beginning,” said Morton in a 2004 interview about her series Glass House, “my work was devoted not to despair but rather to the courage and imagination with which people face adversity, the ways they manage to build makeshift structures and find warmth and community.” Photographs from that series document a group of young people who squatted in an abandoned glass factory on the Lower East Side. The residents, who had formed a well-organized, tightly knit community, were evicted in 1994, and Alphabet City, like many other neighborhoods, has been transformed by gentrification. Morton doesn’t romanticize the people she photographs, but it’s impossible not to feel chastened by her pictures, when you consider what gets carelessly discarded (things and people), and the number of people who find themselves homeless in a city as wealthy as New York.
Morton’s work is a reminder that although we are inundated by imagery, there are some photographic projects that deserve our time and attention, that bear thoughtful, steady witness to a social reality many of us are tempted to ignore.
— By Jean Dykstra 08/01/2015
Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Jeff Wall, Boxing, 2011. Collection of the artist, Vancouver
The dark-haired woman in photographer Barbara Probst’s Exposure 87 wears red and has delicate features. She appears in a triptych of images, posed in front of big pictures of the movies stars Monica Vitti and Daniel Craig. She’s seen from different angles but in the exact same charming pose, because Probst made the images using multiple cameras, all fired at once. Exposure 87 appears in Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition at the Hammer Museum through September 13. As the title suggests, the show’s thesis hinges on the idea of composition. “We are glutted with images,” writes curator Russell Ferguson in his exhibition essay, and the art photographers he’s assembled distinguish themselves from the glut by taking “responsibility for every detail.”
These “responsibility takers” are largely the usual suspects, photographers we’ve heard of. The show includes a fantastic and gritty sink photograph by Jeff Wall; a dead-on 1990s portrait by Thomas Ruff; a wide-open landscape by Andreas Gursky; a black-and-white still life by Hiroshi Sugimoto. These images still pack their polished punch, but the show’s thesis might have been more stirring if it incorporated more under-sung photographers.
Elad Lassry, Melocco, 2009. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery
The absence of underdogs is only one way in which diversity is lacking here. Sugimoto is one of three non-white artists in a show that includes 26 individuals, only six of whom are female. Such numbers shouldn’t be terribly surprising, given that composition is a formal concern and, in art, formalism has frequently been the territory of those who do not feel a visceral need to question or complicate any smooth kind of representation. Nikki S. Lee or Carrie Mae Weems, for instance, wouldn’t make sense in this exhibition. They’re not precise enough, too distracted by the politics of looking and being looked at to make an image as imperviously, gorgeously stylized as Elad Lassry’s Melocco, a self-contained photograph of a shiny green china set.
Ultimately, perhaps, it’s the classical definition of “composed” that keeps the show feeling so controlled. The images in it, consistently balanced and smartly lit, adhere to the traditional compositional strategy known as the “golden ratio” surprisingly often. Open up the definition of “composed” and the range of the artists doing relevant work would likely expand, too, making for a livelier conversation with ripples outside the established art world’s too-white, too-male center.
— By Catherine Wagley 07/29/2015
Sarah Kennel Joins PEM
Sarah Kennel has been named the new curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum. Kennel was a curator for nine years at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The Peabody Essex Museum has a collection of some 800,000 photographic objects from the 19th century to today. A Los Angeles native with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, Kennel did a pre-doctoral fellowship at the National Gallery's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, then joined the National Gallery.
— By Jean Dykstra 07/27/2015
From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Horacio Coppola, Avenida Corrientes desde Avenida Alem hacia el oeste, 1936. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art
Just after World War II there were two cities in the new world positioned to be global centers: New York and Buenos Aires. One of them fell off the table, through coups, cults of personality, corruption and currency devaluation. Buenos Aires never looked toward the United States to define itself culturally; instead, the Paris of the Palm Trees looked toward Europe, which further explains its total marginalization in the history of modern art, at least as written from New York. Over the last decade, that myopia has diminished, and MoMA has been one of the reasons. The most recent treatment is From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires (on view through October 4), the first major exhibition in this country to chart the careers of two key figures in pre- and post-World War II Argentina, the photographers Horacio Coppola (1906-2012) and Grete Stern (1904-99). Stern was born in Germany, and Coppola went there to study. The two met at the Bauhaus in 1932. They eventually fled from the Nazis back to Argentina, where they became a cultural power couple. In 1935 their joint photographic exhibition was called by one critic “the first serious manifestation of ‘photographic art’ seen in Argentina.” Behind this pronouncement lies a national sentiment about becoming modern, and Coppola’s photographs above all exemplify the desire and the reality.
Grete Stern, Dreams No. 1, 1949. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art
The heart of the MoMA exhibition was a wall of his images celebrating Buenos Aires as a metropolis, with its crowded intersections, skyscrapers, traffic, and night skyline as bright as New York or Paris. Nearby, Coppola’s silent film shows the construction of the obelisk that is the central monument of the city –an homage to national and urban pride. The whole suite makes a New Yorker want to get on a plane and head south. But there is a flip side, and it shows in the very different work of Grete Stern. She inherited the mantle of Surrealism in a series called Sueños (dreams). These photo collages, published in the women’s magazine Idilio in the late 1940s and early 1950s, illustrated readers’ dreams. A fictitious psychologist “Richard Rest” (actually two editors of the magazine) purported to analyze them. To go along with prints of the images (most of the original collages were lost), copies of the magazine on display convey a tangible sense of just how anxious and therapeutically oriented Buenos Aires was – and still is. There is even a neighborhood nicknamed Villa Freud. As the curators Sarah Meister and Roxana Marcocci point out, many of the collages touch on the role of women in a modern urban setting, in particular under the schizophrenic progressive/repressive leadership of Juan Perón. They open a window on the transformation of a traditional society and its emerging discontents and desires. The argument is compelling, but it also tends to obscure the tongue-in-cheek humor of the sueños, a perfect antidote to the self-involved, overanalyzed Porteño (native of Buenos Aires) of legend.
The exhibition emphasizes work directly influenced by the couple’s time at the Bauhaus, including Stern’s graphic design work in England. Coppola’s last 70 years are dismissed as unworthy of documenting, and there is very little attention paid to Stern’s great preoccupation of the 1960s, the indigenous people of Argentina, particularly the Chaco region. In a country where the contrast between old and new was still vivid, such an interest, though formally unremarkable, was every bit as modern as a brightly lit skyscraper.
— By Lyle Rexer 07/24/2015
The Human Diorama: Bear Kirkpatrick
555 Gallery, Boston
©Bear Kirkpatrick, courtesy 555 Gallery
Viewing photographs and videos by Bear Kirkpatrick reminds me of a magic show. I know there are tricks behind each sleight of hand, but because the performance is so adroit, surrendering to the fantasy is easy. Kirkpatrick also has a family lineage that traces back to an amalgam of heretics, puritans, judges, and witches. Opposition and conflict are literally in his blood, and he’s made them an intrinsic part of his creative process.
The Human Diorama (2015) sets the stage for this show at 555 Gallery, on view through August 1. Two large female figures are head-locked to resemble a pair of fighting antelopes. With their heads hidden behind a single shock of blond hair, it looks as though it could be the id struggling with its superego. Similar psychological battles are at work in the series Hierophanies I and II. Kirkpatrick photographs female friends and acquaintances in remote, uncultivated locations. The addition of artificial light against a dark and moody landscape creates a heightened sense of theater, where figures morph into mythological versions of themselves struggling toward a more primal existence.
©Bear Kirkpatrick, courtesy 555 Gallery
For the largest group of portraits, titled The Old Ones, head coverings and thick layers of clay on naked torsos become a canvas on which Kirkpatrick embeds allegorical imagery around a pristine face. His post-production handiwork is so skillful the results are seamless. Most of the imagery comes from 16th- and 17th-century paintings, like saints and sinners from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch or a wintry Dutch landscape by Hendrick Avercamp. Recently, he began using his own landscape photographs – of barren trees surrounding a vernal pond, for example – rather than borrowing imagery from paintings. There is a lot to look at, and parsing through the iconography is part of the pleasure of this work, which invites viewers to get lost in a parallel reality.
— By Edie Bresler 07/19/2015
David Hartt: Interval
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
David Hartt, Interval V, 2014. ©David Hartt, Courtesy Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago, and David Nolan Gallery, New York
Who cares what happens on the island of Sakhalin, Russia (population 500,000), or in the Yukon Territory of Whitehorse, Canada (population 23,276)? It turns out a lot of people do (and did). David Hartt traveled to each northern locale in the footsteps of two influential predecessors: Anton Chekhov in 1890, and Glenn Gould in 1967. Interval at the Art Institute of Chicago (through October 11, 2015) combines Hartt’s new photo and video series with an architectural intervention and soundtrack.
Hartt’s seemingly straightforward fieldwork is actually somewhat enigmatic: Was he inspired to travel to the remote towns simply because they were first approached by such unlikely documentarians? (Chekhov reported on the prison town of Sakhalin in his only work of non-fiction, and Gould, the pianist, produced broadcasts for Canadian radio for a decade.) While the original journalism is worth rediscovering on its own terms, viewers find in Hartt a tour guide who trusts in his own whimsy and revels in a cultural riddle: Don’t we like to go places where the famous have been?
David Hartt, Interval I, 2014. ©David Hartt, Courtesy Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago, and David Nolan Gallery, New York
It has been said that Chekhov conducted a door-to-door census in Sakhalin to extract information about the town’s secretive prison. Hartt seemingly replicates Chekhov’s method with slideshows of three- to five-second shots of dozens of sites, many of them remarkable only insofar as they exist. His camera is not disruptive, and he likes the look of documentation, so black-and-white video, but color photographs, comb the landscape for clues to the past and the present. The footage appears exhaustive, although it totals only a 15-minute loop. The concept is grounded in Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, but an abstract jazz score by Mitchell Akiyama adds a layer of intellectual, even emotive mystique, a method borrowed from Gould’s radio program.
What happened in Sakhalin and Whitehorse? Well, there are weeds and Walmarts. There are parking lots, locals, and nightclubs. The prison Chekhov reported on is still there. In Hartt’s work, the photos and videos are not clearly differentiated between the two places, though Sakhalin and Whitehorse are thousands of miles apart. The confusion is a productive exercise in determining the value of place. Inexplicably, a glass curtain wall from a commercial skyscraper bisects the gallery space. It turns out it’s a nod to the postmodern Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, where the first iteration of Interval debuted as a site-specific installation in 2015. Will future iterations of the show bear the mark of its Chicago presentation, like strata of the Anthropocene or an overstuffed research file? Reference upon citation upon feeling upon observation—that is how Hartt likes to build his topics. It ends up being a kind of place-based formalism, more gorgeous than informational.
— By Jason Foumberg 07/16/2015
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Dru Donovan, Untitled, 2009. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery
Along with human subjects, books figure prominently in Katy Grannan’s curatorial effort at Fraenkel Gallery, on view through August 22. The show, which includes works by 18 artists, not all of them photographers, is an ecclectic bricolage held together by the literary specter of the Carson McCullers Southern Gothic novel after which the show is titled. Because Grannan’s own photographs – of edgy, isolated characters seen in harsh, preternatural light – have such a strong aesthetic, this exhibition serves as much to illuminate her approach, and thematic interests, as it does to introduce a group of emerging artists. Many of these are recent MFA grads, a welcome gesture in a gallery known for its tony roster, though the strategy also brings some unresolved works into the fold. While the show’s stated themes are rooted in pathos, a conviviality is expressed in abundance – there are 66 works on view, many installed to create unexpected relationships.
Elizabeth Bick, Ela in November, 2013. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery
While there are works that reveal an explicit formal connection to Grannan’s own – Elizabeth Bick’s isolated blonde woman and Matthew Connors’s man in white tennis shorts, both of whom express an ambiguous anguish – the show is fleshed out with a wide range of material that suggests edgy interpersonal narratives. Photographs by Dru Donovan and Bryson Rand do this with off-kilter sensuality, while five quirky videos by Christopher Miner express discomfiting mergers of racial tension, religious influence, melodrama, cross dressing, hip hop, and Southern humidity. The tone of these works, spread throughout the exhibition, form a framework of longing that brings more elusive pieces into focus. Heather Rasmussen’s brightly colored, Elad Lassry-like still lifes express unlikely partnerships, while David Alekhuogie’s photographs bring together objects like album covers and darkroom equipment to construct identity through object relations. So do a series of snarky, socially conscious faux book covers by David M. Stein – one invented William F. Buckley cover is titled “White Slang.”
Another consistent note is the inclusion of five artists from Creative Growth, a revered workshop for the developmentally disabled. The paint on found photographs by Alice Wong segue from document to invented space. The late Judith Scott, perhaps the best-known artist in the exhibition, is represented here by a fiber-wrapped object the size of a small child resting on a pedestal. It’s a haunting abstract effigy that lends a very human soul to this absorbing, idiosyncratic exhibition.
— By Glen Helfand 07/13/2015
Burk Uzzle: American Puzzles
Steven Kasher Gallery, New York
Burk Uzzle, Tired, New Jersey, 1967. Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery
You may be forgiven for not having heard of Burk Uzzle, but once you’ve seen Steven Kasher Gallery's show of his black-and-white photographs from the 1960s through the 2000s (on view through July 31), you won't have any excuse for forgetting him.
Uzzle's career mirrors that of some of the best-known photographers of his generation, and yet his is not a household name. In 1962, at 23, he became LIFE's youngest ever contract photographer. Just five years later, he became a member of Magnum Photos. In the years since, he’s photographed some of the most important events of our times — the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Cambodian War — and built up an impressive collection of images that show America in all its splendor and strangeness.
Burk Uzzle, Upside Down Tree, Century City, California, 1975. Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery
Like the best observers of this country, Uzzle displays an intuitive sensitivity to our national incongruities and harmonies. His subjects are classic Americana: beaches and parades, small towns and highways, a mix of the impossibly vast and the deeply local that gets at the heart of life here. Uzzle’s perspective combines the best qualities of those who’ve undertaken similar enterprises — the wit of Garry Winogrand, and the stylistic approach of New Topographics photographers like Robert Adams — while maintaining a certain Uzzle-ness that makes him entirely original.
His sheer range of expression is striking. On one wall, you’ll find the dark irony of Football Team with Smokestacks, a wholesome scene complicated by a mysterious, looming darkness. Turn a corner and you’ll face the absurdity of Wow Cows, which fills the frame with fake cows standing in a field. Elsewhere, Uzzle’s images are a mix of melancholy, wonder, and pure aesthetic exploration.
Uzzle’s talent is undeniable, so it’s hard to explain, at 76, his relative obscurity. Hopefully, solo shows at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Ackland Art Museum and the Nasher Museum of Art next year will help put him in his proper place among the greats of American photography.
— By Jordan G. Teicher 06/28/2015
MoMA Expands its New Photography Series
Ilit Azoulay, Shifting Degrees of Certainty
The Museum of Modern Art’s longstanding New Photography series is having its 30th anniversary in November, and the museum is using the occasion to expand and revamp the series, now a biannual exhibition. This year’s exhibition, which goes on view November 7, will include 19 artists and artist collectives from 14 countries. Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, organized by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography; Roxana Marcoci, senior curator; and Lucy Gallun, assistant curator in the department of photography, will explore what the curators call a “post-Internet reality” through various kinds of works, including still and moving images, zines, and sculpture. The international slate of artists includes: Ilit Azoulay, Zbyněk Baladrán, Lucas Blalock, Edson Chagas, Natalie Czech, DIS Collective, Katharina Gaenssler, David Hartt, Mishka Henner, David Horvitz, John Houck, Yuki Kimura, Anouk Kruithof, Basim Magdy, Katja Novitskova, Marina Pinsky, Lele Saveri, Indrė Šerpytytė, Lieko Shiga.
— By Jean Dykstra 06/25/2015
In Appreciation of Anne Wilkes Tucker
Richard Avedon, Dovima with Elephants, 1955. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
In honor of Anne Wilkes Tucker’s 39-year career with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, collectors, dealers, and artists from around the country have donated more than 150 works to the museum or made promised gifts. From June 23 to October 11, a selection of those works will be on display in the exhibition In Appreciation: Gifts in Honor of Anne Wilkes Tucker. The works on view include Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a Man Ray photomontage from 1926, Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants, and many others. Tucker, who retires June 30, has organized more than 40 exhibitions at the museum and written dozens of publications.
— By Jean Dykstra 06/18/2015
Marcia Wood Gallery Midtown, Atlanta
Lucinda Bunnen, Swing Set, 1964/2014. Courtesy Marcia Wood Gallery
Lucinda Bunnen has been a force on Atlanta’s art scene for decades—as both an artist and philanthropist. She is an avid collector of works by local and international artists, amassing a well-regarded collection and donating over 650 works to the High Museum of Art, where a gallery is named in her honor. Now 85, she is busier than ever. This show, titled Weathered Chromes and on view at Marcia Wood Gallery through June 20, is the third and final installment in a series called Lucinda’s World that has appeared in several Atlanta galleries this year.
Bunnen has embraced changes in photography over the years, moving from a straight documentary style in both black and white and color to near abstractions of color and pattern, and now these “weathered chromes,” vibrant images that seem artificially colored or digitally enhanced, but aren’t.
Weathered Chromes began as an accident, when two of Bunnen’s slides were affected by water damage that broke down the layers of emulsion while leaving a recognizable image. The intriguing results led Bunnen to experiment with intentional degradation of old chromes, leaving to the elements a selection of slides from six decades’ worth of work. Many of the photos were taken on Bunnen’s travels to Cuba, India, and Burkina Faso, as well as throughout the South.
Lucinda Bunnen, Steeple Chase in the Rain, 2015. Courtesy Marcia Wood Gallery
The photos are obfuscated to varying degrees. The slides of Cloud and Ice are so degraded that there is no discernible subject in the resulting prints. Some—such as Swing Set, with its frothy starburst patterns, or Mother and Child, with two glowing figures—take on an almost mystical air.
Bunnen’s deep reach into her personal archives must’ve provided a long walk down memory lane, and the results of her weathering process suggest the imperfection of memories, the hazy recollections that accumulate with time.
These works are about the physicality of photography—the physical, not digital, manipulation of images and photographic materials. Younger artists have made entire careers investigating these processes. Matthew Brandt, for one, shoots scenes and then uses materials from the site to process the images—a photo of a lake developed in water from that lake. Photojournalist Randy Taylor also began printing new images from negatives that were damaged when a storage facility housing decades of his work was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
The ability to turn a mishap into an opportunity, to see potential in failure, is what propels us forward. It is Bunnen’s curious mind and photographic agility—to roll with the punches and change with the times—that keeps her at the forefront of contemporary photography.
— By Stephanie Cash 06/17/2015
To Feel Less Alone: Gay Block, A Portrait
New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe
Gay Block, Untitled (Good Friends). Courtesy New Mexico Museum of Art
Text panels in the exhibition To Feel Less Alone: Gay Block, A Portrait -- on view at the New Mexico Museum of Art through July 26 – ask several questions, including: Can a portrait capture the essence of a complex person? Is a portrait a picture of the person in front of the camera or the person behind the camera? And, regarding Block’s diptychs: How does the presence of two different portraits change your interpretation of each image? Block has been asking such questions in her work for more than 40 years.
Gay Block, Trey in his Bedroom. Courtesy New Mexico Museum of Art
The nine diptychs and 33 single images on view provide a sampler of Block’s serial work over the decades. Among those are selections from Jews of Houston (1975), Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust (1980), Camp Girls (1981/2006), Clothed and Unclothed (1987), and Bertha Alyce: Mother exPosed (1987/1994). Most affecting are the Holocaust images portraying individuals sharing everlasting memories of a life-changing event. Block’s portraits never feel taken at the expense of her subjects; her sitters appear fully aware of the moment, willing to be themselves even in the most deliberately posed situations. Indeed, one wonders if Block’s subjects pose themselves, as in Mother and Daughter, Dede and Bertha (1975), wherein each sit at opposite ends of the sofa like bookends, legs crossed, hands in their laps, staring unsmiling at the camera. If Block had suggested the sofa as the staging area the two women surely fell into familiar habits, both stiff in demeanor and not relating to each other at all. In the diptych Trey in His Bedroom (1978/2012), Block recaptures the character of her subject more than 30 years later seen propped upright on his bed by pillows and dressed similarly then and now in striped polo shirt and tennis shoes. The deadpan directness of these images has a kinship to the work of Diane Arbus, whose work was clearly inspirational to Block in the early 1970s.
— By Douglas Fairfield 06/15/2015
David Armstrong, Mark Morrisroe, and Nan Goldin / Boston to New York
ClampArt, New York
Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC. Courtesy ClampArt
Regionalism remains the easiest narrative we have to parse out our polyglot creative expression, despite the globalism of contemporary art. Culling three photographers, David Armstrong, Nan Goldin, and Mark Morrisroe, from that generation informally known as the Boston School--they all went to art school and met in Boston during the Seventies before relocating to New York in the late Seventies and early Eighties – this show at ClampArt through June 20 helps locate the shared sensibilities by which their diversities have found a degree of collectivity.
Mark Morrisroe, Fascination (Jonathan). Courtesy ClampArt
At ClampArt, we can see how these constructs are basically reductive (excluded from the usual list are Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jack Pierson, and Stephen Tashjian, the latter two likely far too diverse in their practices to fit any such formula) and ultimately problematic when the similarities of the formative years are extended to describe longer careers. Morrisroe’s career was cut short by his untimely death at 30, and his wild proto-punk life and art is iconic and emblematic of the group. But holding this center is increasingly tenuous in the case of Goldin, whose peripatetic oeuvre has been largely hit and miss since I’ll Be Your Mirror, her signature compilation of photographs from the early years, and Armstrong, who practiced ever greater visual restraint and high style as he moved on to fashion photography before his death last year. Seen collectively, not every photo makes sense as the Boston School, but surely that lack of sense and symmetry is where we can enjoy a greater poetics.
David Armstrong, George in Water, Provincetown. Courtesy ClampArt
The picture that emerges here speaks of place, not simply as the conjunction of Boston and New York, but of myriad scenes that made up that moment that deeply informed the creative communities of both cities in that time. Rife with portraits of recognizable personages-- artists like Pierson, Tabboo! (Tashjian), Greer Lankton, and Pat Hearn, then an artist before she transformed the art world as a dealer-- and lots of sexy men, these portraits speak of the affinities within this outsider community and these artists’ need to capture that, yet there are also many self-portraits, speaking to the self-reflexivity within all the work. As a form of documentation, there is great power in these photographs of a subculture that time, drugs, and AIDS has long since extinguished, but the real potency is in how these artists see and feel their world--an emphatically direct photography so in situ that we’re reminded of how posed, staged and mediated this medium often is. It’s a diaristic paean to the ways that love, sexuality, gender, and lifestyle can exist within a group yet manifest a deeply personal expression within the artist.
— By Carlo McCormick 06/04/2015
Emi Anrakuji: 1800 Millimetre
Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York
Emi Anrakuji, Untitled 082, 2015. Courtesy Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery
Unlike most photographers, Emi Anrakuji isn't content to use the camera simply as a tool to convey her own, subjective view of the world; instead, in her hands, the camera becomes a strident, and at times less than cooperative, witness to the very tenuousness of perception itself. Such a metaphysical, and ultimately compelling, approach to making art comes honestly to the Tokyo-based artist, who suffered a debilitating brain illness when she was in her 20s that left her blind in one eye. Today the 51-year-old artist can see, though her vision there is severely impaired. Fortunately, accurate vision is less a prerequisite for making good self-portraiture than having the courage to look.
These simple, pleasing pictures, on view at Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery through May 30, achieve a great deal of dynamic motion (and convey more than a little sexual tension) via a few basic formal and compositional conceits: the use of disorienting diagonals; overexposed and washed-out back-lighting; starkly printed contrasts; and a slew of reflections in both mirrors and polished surfaces. Objects become indistinct -- forcing us to look, and look again. In one image, Anrakuji holds a huge pair of scissors in one hand, balances her weight on one leg, and raises the other -- we presume she's about to trim her own pubic hair, albeit rather precariously. It would be nice if we could read her facial expression while she's poised in this act, but, alas, her own ample hair blocks her face almost completely from the camera's view. In another image, we see the same scissors reflected in what seems to be a circular shaving mirror. The scissors appear smaller this time, yet somehow more menacing. Anrakuji shot all these scenes in two locations -- a hotel room, and friend's borrowed New York apartment -- and the highly confined domestic spaces add a frisson of both lived-in familiarity and indistinct foreboding.
Emi Anrakuji, Untitled 370, 2015. Courtesy Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery
The shot that distills Arakuji's potent ability to fuse larger social imagination and private space (read: what the media likes us to think women do when they’re alone, and what they really do when they're alone) is a single, vertical shot of Anrakuji's naked body seen from the breasts down. She kneels on a bed, dangling a series of ball-shaped objects before her torso, and, at the point where her thighs meet, or rather, don't (the artist is quite thin), a small shaft of shadow appears that, believe it or not, reads just like the glinting blade of an unsheathed sword. After blinking once or twice, we can convince ourselves that this shiny, phallic mirage is of course the object of our imagination, but too late -- a “transgression” has already stuck in our minds: A woman, left alone, in a hotel room, has been allowed to see her own body however she chooses. Good thing the camera was there, to play along.
— By Sarah Schmerler 05/29/2015
Frédéric Brenner: An Archaeology of Fear and Desire
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
Frédéric Brenner, Ben Gurion Airport, 2010. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery
Few photographers capture the complexities and diversities of the Jewish experience like Frédéric Brenner. Surely, none do so with greater scope or greater sensitivity.
An Archaeology of Fear and Desire, on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery until July 3, is a study of modern Israel, a place, in Brenner's view, where Jewish history lives in the stories, expressions, and environments of its modern inhabitants.
Brenner's opus is Diaspora, a 25-year record of Jews in 40 countries; selections from this body of work are on display in an adjacent room at Howard Greenberg. Archaeology is a narrower project by comparison — the earliest photos date back just six years, and they're all taken in the New Jersey-sized country — and yet its reach feels comparably wide. Israel, here, is both urban and rural, modern and ancient, moving forward and looking back.
Frédéric Brenner, Palace Hotel, 2009. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery
These images, though straightforward in their approach, embody many of the contradictions and contrasts in Israel, a place Brenner has described as "un-understandable." One photo shows three ultra Orthodox men at Ben Gurion Airport, all wearing black hoods over their eyes to block out the so-called immodesties of modern life. And yet, they have all consented to be photographed — that is, to be seen by the very people who they refuse to see themselves.
Unlike Diaspora and another people-centric work on display here, Exile at Home, Brenner lets the landscape itself do the talking to a larger degree in Archaeology. In one wide shot of a schoolyard, for instance, children play amongst white cubes we know to be bomb shelters, a simple scene that speaks to the everyday possibility of violence here. Other views are more open to interpretation, like the one depicting a tree blossoming from rubble on a dusty, brown plain, or the one that shows the Palace Hotel gutted amid construction.
Brenner's focus, frequently, is on family. In one portrait, we see three generations of women, the oldest a survivor of the Holocaust, staring straight into the camera. One is left to ponder the profound differences in their individual experiences, as well as the strong ties that unite them. In another, we see the Orthodox Weinfeld family, its brood of nine children seated at a long dining table bookended by the stoic matriarch and patriarch, the latter looking much like the old paintings of Orthodox men hanging on the wall behind them. In this context, the image seems like a sign of timeless rigidity in a land marked by so much change. Israel may be un-understandable, but in Archaeology, Brenner reinforces his case that it is an enigma worth exploring.
— By Jordan G. Teicher 05/19/2015
at Hammer Museum, Los AngelesSarah Kennel Joins PEMFrom Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola
at Museum of Modern Art, New YorkThe Human Diorama: Bear Kirkpatrick
at 555 Gallery, BostonDavid Hartt: Interval
at Art Institute of Chicago, ChicagoThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
at Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
at Steven Kasher Gallery, New YorkMoMA Expands its New Photography SeriesIn Appreciation of Anne Wilkes TuckerLucinda Bunnen
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at New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa FeDavid Armstrong, Mark Morrisroe, and Nan Goldin / Boston to New York
at ClampArt, New York
at Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New YorkFrédéric Brenner: An Archaeology of Fear and Desire
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at Getty Center, Los AngelesTseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera
at Grey Art Gallery, New YorkMarion Gray: Within the Light
at Oakland Museum of California, OaklandMargaret Bourke-White: Pioneering Photojournalist
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at Rena Bransten Projects, San FranciscoCourt Rules in Favor of Arne Svenson2015 Guggenheim Fellows AnnouncedAperture Portfolio Prize Winner AnnouncedAssaf Evron: The Sea Was Smooth, Perfectly Mirroring the Sky
at Andrea Meislin Gallery, New YorkJoy Episalla: Street View Rear Window
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at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkYale Acquires Large 19th-Century Photography CollectionToshio Shibata: Water Colors
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at Pace/MacGill Gallery, New YorkThe Return to Reason
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at High Museum of Art, AtlantaEdmund Teske
at Gitterman Gallery, New YorkClassic Photographs Los AngelesLibrary of Congress Acquires Camilo José Vergara ArchivePhoto LA's 24th EditionThe Maine Photo Project Debuts this MonthEastman House on YouTubeSotheby's Denise Bethel Is Stepping Down
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at Catherine Edelman Gallery, ChicagoParis Photo-Aperture PhotoBook AwardsSunil Gupta: Out and About: New York and New Delhi
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at Walther Collection Project Space, New York
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at Fraenkel Gallery, San FranciscoAllan Sekula: Ship of Fools
at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa MonicaCantor Art Center Receives Warhol ArchiveJack Leigh: Full Circle, Low Country Photographs, 1972-2004
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at Museum of Arts and Design / Robert Mann Gallery, New YorkTim Barber: Relations
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at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York
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at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San FranciscoDavid Levinthal: War Games
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at The Suburban, Oak ParkArmory Show 2013
at Armory Show, New YorkScope New York 2013
at SCOPE New York, New YorkADAA Art Show 2013
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at Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
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Princeton Art MuseumCatherine Wagner: trans/literate.
at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San FranciscoKarl Baden: Roadside Attractions
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at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkIdris Khan: New Photographs
at Fraenkel Gallery, San FranciscoJessica Eaton: Polytopes
at M+B Gallery, Los AngelesNadav Kander: Yangtze: The Long River
at Flowers, New YorkOri Gersht: History Repeating
at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, BostonAttachments
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at Museum of Contemporary Photography, ChicagoBonni Benrubi, 1953-2012