Tag, modernist
5. Beyond Paul Strand: What Can Radical Photography Be?

I started this blog by posing some questions about the arbitrariness of dividing Paul Strand’s career into a late period of political subject matter and activism and an early period that seemed devoted primarily to formal concerns. Certainly, this is something of a straw man, because most of us would agree that the visual arts are inherently about shaping matter, with all its inherent recalcitrance, into form, regardless of the desired or received “meaning” of that shaped form. The other problem is, of course, what we intend by the terms, “political subjects” or “political art.” The gathering together of any people into a governing unit begins to constitute the body politic, so that virtually all social life in some sense can be read as “political.” However, historically we distinguish “political art”—art that is intentionally made to express a political party line or promote a particular government or policy position—from art that can be read as confirming a location within conflicting ideologies (which may cut across formal party platforms or regimes).  This latter sense of art as functioning politically and representing certain values that can be decoded has driven much of the social history of art in the past fifty years and is what I was striving to uncover in Strand’s enigmatic urban views. more

Published: 10.03.2015
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1. The Problematic Politics of Paul Strand

The recent retrospective exhibition of Paul Strand’s photographs, organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to celebrate its purchase of more than 3000 prints and lantern slides from the Paul Strand Archive at the Aperture Foundation and coming to the Fotomuseum Winterthur in March, provides an ideal moment to think about Strand’s contribution and how he has been fashioned as a master of “modernist” photography (if not the slippery status of not-for-profit institutions that sell donated works to raise funds, perhaps the subject of another blog). More particularly, my interest derives from the ongoing debates about Strand’s politics and its importance to his work. At the heart of these debates, I would argue, are critical assumptions not only about what “political photography” looks like, but about how we have defined the winners and losers in our efforts to write a history of avant-garde, twentieth-century photography. more

Published: 01.02.2015
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15.09.–31.10.2013
5. Delirious Anthropology

I feel like I’ve spent the last four weeks overstating my scepticism about contemporary art’s retrospectivity—as seen in the repurposing of modernist art and architecture, the incorporation of pre-existing archives, and the retrieval of outmoded mechanisms of display. All three are examples of art’s fascination with the past that too often forgets to keep its sightlines on the present. This week I’d like to conclude my series of blogposts by looking at three recent videos that take past works and pre-existing archives as their starting point, but which do so in order to assess the present: Provenance by Amie Siegel (recently on show at Simon Preston Gallery in the Lower East Side), Grosse Fatigue by Camille Henrot and Ricerce Three by Sharon Hayes (the last two exhibited at the Venice Biennale). more

Published: 26.10.2013
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4. Displaying Research

Last week I promised a discussion of Goshka Macuga, whose new show at Andrew Kreps Gallery is yet another example of the retrospectivity trend I’ve been tracking in these blog posts. Macuga’s work synthesizes a number of points that addressed in previous weeks: the obsession with modernism, the archival character of contemporary installation art, and the display of information and research. more

Published: 11.10.2013
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3. Archival Myopia

This week and next I’ll be addressing another retrospective tendency in contemporary art: artists presenting other people’s archives. This is already a well-known strategy on the biennial circuit: think of Akram Zataari presenting the archive of Lebanese studio photographer Hashem el Madani (Studio Practices, 2007), or the Otolith Group presenting the photo archive of Anasuya Gyan Chand, former president of the National Federation of Indian Women (Daughter Products, 2011). In a less global and more local vein, Carol Bove’s current show at Maccarone presents the archive of Harry Smith and the Qor Corporation (1958-1962), a New York-based studio that sought to explore the possibilities of mylar (a kind of polyester resin) as a print base for kabbalist designs. more

Published: 02.10.2013
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2. Monumental Bling

It feels like a million new shows have just opened in Chelsea for the new season, and several of them chime perfectly with my theme for this blog: the retrospectivity of contemporary art, particularly the current fascination/obsession with Modernist art, architecture and design. In this post I’m going to focus on David Maljkovic at Metro Pictures, but also The Propeller Group at Lombard Fried; there are other shows too, but I’m going to save them for next week’s blog. more

Published: 24.09.2013
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1. How Did We Get so Nostalgic for Modernism?

I’m going to use this blog as a way to test out some ideas relating to a series of essays I’m putting together on the retrospectivity of contemporary art. What do I mean by retrospectivity? The tendency, found almost globally, for art to quote and repurpose pre-existing cultural artefacts. Pre-eminent among this tendency is the trend for repurposing Modernist art, architecture and design. There have been a number of exhibitions circling around this theme: think of I Moderni (2003), Altermodern and Modernologies (both 2009), and of course the leitmotiv of Documenta 12 in 2007 (‘Is Modernity Our Antiquity?’). more

Published: 14.09.2013
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01.06.–14.07.2012
5. Photography and Humanity

In the catalogue essay to the 1981 exhibition he curated at MoMA under the title Before Photography, Peter Galassi traces photography’s origins in relation to the history of Western painting. Much more than being the offspring from a fruitful juncture of scientific, cultural, and economic determinations, Galassi argues, photography is the final, perfected result of centuries-long pictorial efforts to depict the world. The photograph, he writes, possesses an inherently modern “pictorial syntax of immediate, synoptic perceptions and discontinuous, unexpected forms.” more

Published: 09.07.2012
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4. Aesthetic Equality

In this fourth posting, I consider a sequence of photographic images and accompanying text fragments that a group of Ramallah based artists and writers - Basel Abbas, Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Nahed Awwad and Inass Yassin - created together with and coordinated by Shuruq Harb and Ursula Biemann (ArtTerritories). Preceded by an introductory essay entitled "Looking Back at Today" – written by Biemann and Harb – this photo-textual work of art was published as an insert in A Prior #22 (2011). more

Published: 29.06.2012
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15.01.–29.02.2012
1. Imperfection

In looking at both contemporary exhibitions as well as photographs as they are used in everyday aesthetic applications, one notices that imperfection plays a key role. Far removed from the ideals of the Group f/64, New Objectivity, or even the Bechers and their school, to name a few positions, photographs that consciously employ technical errors have become common sense in photography. There are photographers who use deficient cameras; Lomography aficionados sell their photographs along with this type of camera in stores in major cities; snapshots are in demand, and blurriness is the aesthetic rule. Imperfection is the new ideal of contemporary photography, even if celebrated, staged, and represented in a kind of perfection. My thesis is that imperfection serves as the contemporary modus of the real in photography. more

Published: 11.01.2012
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