New Photography 2015: Ocean of ImagesMoMA Still CaresJohn Haber
With "New Photography," the Museum of Modern Art wants you to know: it still cares. It cares enough about the medium to track its currents—quite apart from contemporary art from Eastern Europe and Latin America upstairs as "Transmissions," recent acquisitions downstairs as "Scenes for a New Heritage," and the four floors of ""Greater New York 2015" at MoMA PS1. Maybe it has to make a point of it, now that the last of these has all but given up on emerging artists. It cares, too, about its heritage, enough to extend the show outside the photography galleries, where a stairwell modeled after the Bauhaus once provided chief access to the museum itself. Katharina Gaenssler recalls its former grandeur and intimacy in papering the walls with its history.
Some of her images capture the actual Bauhaus stairs and some Oskar Schlemmer's painting of them from 1932, just three years after he left the Bauhaus—and shortly before the Nazis closed it and its "degenerate art" for good. The painting long welcomed visitors to MoMA up its stairs, before a 2004 expansion redirected visitors to something more akin to a shopping mall. Yet this is no exercise in nostalgia. Gaenssler throws in still another take on the stairs, by Roy Lichtenstein, in a chain of reproductions with no definite beginning or ending. She sticks to photocopies at that, in black and white.
She is one of nineteen in a vision of photography that has all but outgrown photographs. They play at most an incidental role in Lele Saveri's pop-up newsstand, which stood briefly by the L train in Williamsburg. He is much more interested in arts or maybe Brooklyn's attitude, with pretend magazines headlined Karma, XXX, and Stoned Again. Yuki Kimura has photographs, but on metal armatures as a 3D tour of an Edo-period Japanese estate, complete with potted plants. Katja Novitskova transfers her colors to freestanding aluminum cutouts, like outtakes from Frank Stella, while Indre Serpytyte has others convert his photos of KGB interrogation sites into carved wood models, which he then rephotographs. They have little in common with the faceless modernity of Soviet architecture, apart from their felt isolation against backgrounds dark as an early morning sky.
Others make the obligatory move to the Internet and social media. Anouk Kruithof trains the harsh flash of an iPhone on photo-negative sleeves, while David Horvitz managed to go viral with his image, head in hands, as an emblem of mood disorders. Yet more often the show again looks back. Basim Magdy turns to old film stock for shots of the Superfund site along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, while Edson Chagas stacks paper images of empty interiors in Angola for visitors to take away. David Hartt dwells on a conservative think tank as a repository of cubicles and folders. Lucas Blalock applies the Photoshop stamp tool, but to abstract away from the textures of a monumental American landscape.
They look back not just to MoMA's past, but also to a vanishing critique of art. If Pop Art saw mass culture and mass reproduction as both shocking and thrilling, the 1980s saw it as undermining the very hope of a shared identity. And sure enough, Quentin Bajac, Lucy Gallun, and Roxana Marcoci call this year's selection "Ocean of Images." For them as curators, photography and the photographed are drowning together. They linger on global disaster areas, from the Gowanus to Japan after the tsunami. Lieko Shiga leans ghostly prints against the wall as if they, too, washed up with the rising waters.
Here photography is subordinate to conceptual art, while conceptual art often takes on physical dimensions. Saveri's pop-up enterprise and Horvitz's despair have their counterparts in Marina Pinsky's two-sided video—of a child at a convenience store and a man in a bus shelter. Mishka Henner uses an artist's book to map what Blaise Pascal called the "silence of infinite spaces." The pages of his Astronomical, set to scale, have more than their share of blackness. Zyynek Baladrán's video sets telescope views on fire. Shiga's tall frames bring out the glow, shadows, and rootlessness of people and trees. Far too much feels caught in a time warp, back when it meant something to reconceive art and culture as a disaster area. Natalie Houck illustrates poetry with the "Pictures generation," and Ilit Azoulay's traffic signs revisit the empty frames of Allan McCollum, but will anyone still care? DIS, a collective, superimposes MoMA's logo on an androgynous Europop star, but to what end? If the museum is selling out, surely it could set a higher price. At least John Houck constructs his still-lifes from drafting tools on graph paper. New photography deserves a show better able to take its measure.
Ocean of Images - New Photography 2015 Curators: Quentin Bajac, Roxana Marcoci and The Museum of Modern Art 11 W 53rd St. Midtown Map 212 708 9400 moma.org Nov 7, 2015 through Sun, March 20, 2016 Hours: Weds to Mon, 10:30 to 5:30, Fri to 8