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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

New Photography 2015: Ocean of ImagesMoMA Still CaresJohn Haber
Photo by DIS . Source: moma.org Commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art
DIS, "Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence)." 2015

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.
Photo by Thomas Griesel . Source: moma.org
Thomas Griesel, "Installation view of Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015"

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.
Photo by Lele Saveri . Source: moma.org
Lele Saveri, "The Newsstand. 2013-14. Mixed medium installation"

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.
Photo by Indr   erpytyt  . Source: moma.org
Indr erpytyt ," 27 Vilniaus street, Alytus from the series (1944 — 1991) Former NKVD-MVD-MGB-KGB Buildings." 2014
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.
Photo by David Hartt  . Source: moma.org
David Hartt , "Belvedere I: Cubicles at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Midland, Michigan" 2013

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.
Photo by Lucas Blalock . Source: moma.org Lucas Blalock (American, born 1978). Strawberries (forever fresh). 2014. Pigmented inkjet print, 15 3/4 x 19 3/4  (40 x 50.2 cm). Courtesy the artist and Ramiken Crucible, New York. ©2015 Lucas Blalock
Lucas Blalock, "Strawberries (forever fresh). " 2014

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.
Photo by Mishka Henner . Source: moma.org
Mishka Henner, "“The Sun,” pages 1-2, volume one. From Astronomical." 2011

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.
Show Information
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
About the Author
John Haber writes about the arts at haberarts.com.

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