The concurrent photo surveys, “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015” at MoMAand “Photo-Poetics: An Anthology” at the Guggenheim, might initially appear to be a face-off between analog and digital, slow art and fast. But viewing them in this way ignores their essential similarity
During the late ’70s, the Pictures generation, which included artists such as Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein and Richard Prince, appropriated mass-cultural images for critical ends. Like those predecessors, the artists in both of these exhibitions investigate the cultural effects of an increasingly image-saturated world. But the younger artists remix and redistribute images, much like the Internet, and do so out of personal preference instead of a conviction that there’s something inherently problematic about mass media.
At the Guggenheim, a visually lush but almost too homogenous assembly of art features works that frequently harken back to the pre-digital ’60s and ’70s. Anne Collier rephotographs vintage posters, album covers and other printed matter, often with a focus on motifs such as eyes, cameras and women’s bodies. In a sense, she replaces the male gaze, informing the original image with her own.
Leslie Hewitt appropriates material from the same years, layering snapshots over pages from magazines and shooting the arrangements against wood or carpeted floors. In one, a black family at ease in a suburban yard is superimposed over an image of a civil rights demonstration from Ebony magazine. More successful, because more mysterious, is an arrangement of an unjacketed blue book lying on blue carpet with, on top of it, a snapshot of a woman looking out a bus window at a rocky landscape.
In a different vein, Moyra Davey presents 16 poster-size prints of her own photographs, folded, stamped and sent to writer Lynne Tillman, as well as an absorbing video in which Davey meditates on the parallels between her family and that of the 18th-century English proto-feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft. She also ruminates on motherhood and the difficulties of photographing strangers on the street.
Also of interest are Erin Shireff’s time-lapse “film” of the United Nations Secretariat building in New York made by passing various light sources over a handful of rephotographed pictures; Erica Baum’s photographs, made by pointing her camera into of half open paperbacks, that expose tantalizing fragments of text and images; and the slick images of Elad Lassery, reminiscent of ’60s ad imagery, of such non-products as Bengal cats and painted eggs.
“Ocean of Images,” the 30th edition of MoMA’s annual exhibition “New Photography,” is a stranger, more diverse affair, with far more overlap between photography and other mediums such as video, installation and sculpture. Its opening volley is a mesmerizing four-channel video of the Austrian singer and drag queen, Conchita Wurst. Sporting a beard, flowing hair, heavy eye makeup and a diaphanous white dress, Wurst silently performs a series of moves cribbed from Cher, Tina Turner and Beyoncé. Throughout, the video is watermarked with MoMA’s logo: The museum commissioned the piece as the signature for the show from DIS, a New York artist’s collective, magazine publisher, stock photo agency and marketing company.
Whereas DIS tangentially touches upon the Internet’s circulation of intellectual property, David Horvitz hones in on the idea. He began by uploading a picture of himself, head in hands, to a Wikipedia page on mood disorders. He subsequently tracked the image’s appearances on various other websites, where it illustrated articles on alcoholism, phobias and tension headaches, among other things.
Other artists focused on the dissemination of images include African photographer Edson Chagas, who has produced five portraits of abandoned objects—among them, a deflated ball, a mop, and a bottle—against distressed walls and printed them as posters for people to take away with them, and Dutch artist Anouk Kruithof’s photo stickers of images of empty photo-negative sleeves from a found album of travel pictures. And Katja Novitskova from Estonia makes freestanding photographic cutouts of animals and symbols taken from online sources then makes the images of the sculptures available though DIS’s stock photo company.
Elsewhere, images are mixed and matched, as in Lucas Blalocks’s not-quite-right still lifes altered with a photoshop stamping tool, on in John Houck’s perspective defying, non-digital arrays of like objects, each photographed from a different angle and then reassembled onto one surface.
While the purviews of the shows are quite different, the interests they share—in recombinant images, the circulation of data, the blurring of mediums—binds them together. Though there’s no overlap of names between exhibits, many of the artists would have fit into either quite comfortably. They all demonstrate that while one may work without digital assistance, the Web increasingly informs the way photography is created today.