02
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 2nd July 2010 – 3rd February 2011

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My apologies for the lack of local reviews over the next five weeks. I shall be overseas. Hopefully, international postings will continue as normal as long as I can get internet connection with my laptop. Marcus

Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Richard Long (British, born 1945)
County Cork, Ireland
1967
Gelatin silver print
76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010 (2010.12)
© Richard Long

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Long was a key figure in recasting sculpture in two directions: inward toward the gestures of bodies in space and outward toward the creation of ephemeral works made directly in the landscape. A student of the sculptor Anthony Caro at Saint Martins College of Art, Long was well versed in the reductive quality of geometric abstraction but sought to make the form of his works even more elegantly simple and wedded to life. He would go for solitary walks in the English countryside, and at a particular place he would create elemental forms such as a line, an x shape, or a circle by walking over the ground to leave a temporary imprint. A photograph such as County Cork, Ireland – in which the shape seems to hover in the image like a flying saucer – is thus an imprint of an imprint; the form of the work is derived from the holistic relationship between the concept (idea), the action of the body (figure), and the site of his gesture (ground). It is also informed by an astute understanding of the profound links between British culture and the landscape, from prehistoric hill figures through nineteenth-century theories of the Picturesque. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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VALIE EXPORT (Austrian, born 1940)
Encirclement
1976
Gelatin silver print
40.8 x 61 cm (16 1/16 x 24 in.)
Promised Gift of Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner
© VALIE EXPORT, Courtesy Charim Gallery Vienna

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In her series Body Configurations, the artist had herself or female colleagues photographed in local streets, stairwells, and alleyways, contorting their bodies to mimic the harsh geometries of the city. Influenced not only by the Actionists but also by the human sculpture of Robert Morris, Export complicates the coolly inhuman systems of Minimalism by reintroducing the human body into abstraction, an intimate yet public gesture that effortlessly transmutes the personal into the political. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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Doug Aitken (American, born 1968)
Passenger
1997
Chromogenic print
100.5 x 122 cm (39 9/16 x 48 1/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2004 (2004.223)
© Doug Aitken

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Aitken is best known for multiscreen video installations exploring the ways in which perception and consciousness are transformed by our global, technology-driven existence. Passenger belongs to a group of still photographs made in 1997 showing planes in flight, most of which focus on the faint traceries of takeoffs and landings over desolate airport landscapes. In its emphasis on luminosity and atmosphere, this example reveals Aitken’s debt to older California artists such as James Turrell and Robert Irwin. It is also unabashedly sensual: Aitken’s high production values – reminiscent of Technicolor cinematography and glossy advertising – refer directly to the media images that unavoidably condition our responses to the world.

There is something of the sublime in Aitken’s photograph, however, in that it describes the limits of the visible while flooding the eye with color. Starting from an experience familiar to all air travelers of “two ships passing” in the ether, the artist proposes a more complex statement about the way we perceive reality – namely, that the one thing that we cannot see is ourselves seeing and thus that our understanding of the world is always partial and incomplete. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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“Themes of dislocation and displacement in contemporary photography will be explored in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s forthcoming exhibition in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography. Drawn almost entirely from the Museum’s collection, Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography on view July 2, 2010 through February 13, 2011, will feature 22 artists whose photographic works convey a sense of a rootless or unfixed existence.

In the 1960s and 1970s, photography was often embraced by artists who had abandoned conventional art media and who were more interested in creating a work of art that took place over a period of time, in a serial progression, or in a fleeting gesture. The individual painting or sculpture was deemed insufficient to represent the fragmented experience that characterizes the modern world; thus artists showed how a work of art could take the form of a walk (Richard Long), a 20-foot-long book (Ed Ruscha), or a series of postcards outlining the precise time that the artist got up each day (On Kawara). Since the 1980s, however, the more conventional practice of creating a carefully executed, singular photograph has regained prominence in contemporary art. Works by Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Struth, and Weng Fen embody a belief in photography’s traditional powers of description, while reflecting feelings of dislocation in our newly global society.

The exhibition also will include works by: Vito Acconci, Doug Aitken, Darren Almond, Lothar Baumgarten, Matthew Buckingham, VALIE EXPORT, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Svetlana Kopystiansky, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, Allen Ruppersberg, Fazal Sheikh, Erin Shirreff, Robert Smithson, Anne Turyn, and Jeff Wall.

The first half of the exhibition shows how artists in 1960s and 1970s, working in the context of Minimal and Conceptual art, were drawn to photography for its differences from traditional art media: it was low-tech, easily reproducible, and not considered a valuable art object. Photography was also enlisted to document ephemeral works of art. Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci, for instance, created performances that focused on the actions and movements of their bodies in space, and captured these works in photographs and videos.

Other artists, such as Robert Smithson, chose to work directly in the landscape – often in distant or inaccessible locations – and their “Earthworks” could generally be seen only through photographs. Smithson is best known for his landmark Spiral Jetty (1970) in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. For an early experiment in his Mirror Displacements series of photographs, Smithson placed small mirrors into snow drifts on the roof of his apartment building. Through dizzying shifts in scale, the artist’s 1969 study transforms a corner of his Manhattan roof into an Alpine landscape.

A student of Anthony Caro, British artist Richard Long was well versed in the reductive quality of geometric abstraction, but sought to make his works even more simple and wedded to life. He would go for solitary walks in the countryside, and at a particular place he would create elemental forms such as a line, X, or circle by walking over the ground to leave a temporary imprint. Long’s photograph County Cork, Ireland (1967) – in which a circle seems to hover over the grass like a flying saucer – is thus an imprint of an imprint, creating a holistic relationship between the concept, the action of the body, and the site of his gesture.

For her series Body Configurations, the Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT had herself and female colleagues photographed in local streets, as they contorted their bodies to mimic the harsh geometries of the city. Encirclement (1976) shows a woman lying in the street, her body elongated and arched to follow the bright red curve the sidewalk. The photograph reintroduces the human body into abstraction in an intimate yet public gesture.

Beginning in the 1980s, there was a renewed interest in photography’s historical genres and recommitment to technical skill and visual fidelity, as seen in Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits. Geopolitical displacement and cultural migration are referenced in one of Dijkstra’s most important bodies of work to date: her photographs of a Bosnian refugee girl, Almerisa. Between Here and There will feature four portraits of Almerisa that Dijkstra made between 1994 and 2000, beginning at an asylum seekers’ center in the Netherlands. Eight photographs from this series of 11 works were acquired recently by the Museum.

In both photographs and films, Doug Aitken explores the ways in which perception is transformed by our global, technology-driven existence. Aitken’s photograph Passenger (1997), taken from the window of an airplane in flight, shows another plane flying in parallel in the remote distance, illuminated by the sun setting on a slanted horizon. Aitken references sensations of being adrift in mid-air and of “two ships passing” – paths that do not quite connect, despite their proximity to each other.

Chinese artist Weng Fen explores a young generation poised at a transitional moment between China’s traditional rural society and a quickly burgeoning urbanism. Bird’s Eye View: Haikou V (2002) shows a woman – perhaps an outsider or a new arrival to the city – perched on an old wall, looking toward the new skyscrapers on the horizon, but not fully occupying the space of the past or the future. This work is part of a group of recent gifts and promised gifts of contemporary Chinese photographs to the Museum.

The exhibition comes full circle with a recently acquired video by Erin Shirreff. Roden Crater (2009) takes as its subject artist James Turrell’s legendarily inaccessible and still unfinished celestial observatory carved out of a 400,000-year-old extinct volcano. Shirreff’s mesmerizing fixed-camera view of the distant “Earthwork” shows an improbable succession of slow-moving climactic and light effects on the crater, creating a haunting meditation on the never-ending quest for resolution in life and in art.

Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography is organized by Douglas Eklund, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Jeff Wall (Canadian, born 1946)
Rainfilled Suitcase
2001
Transparency in light box
Collection of Jennifer Saul and Stephen Rich, New York
© Jeff Wall

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Wall’s tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. For the last three decades, the artist has created elaborately staged and meticulously rendered scenes of urban and suburban conflict and disorder that he witnessed firsthand, which were then shown as color transparencies in light boxes reminiscent of backlit advertising images seen in airports and bus stops. About 2000, Wall also began to make smaller, more elliptical photographs – isolating the kinds of details that previously would have been seen in the background of his larger, more programmatic pictures. This grimy half of an abandoned suitcase filled with old clothes and rain seems paradoxically to be both as obsessively arranged as a still life and as randomly disordered as the average flotsam and jetsam on any down-and-out street corner. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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Matthew Buckingham (American, born 1963)
Canal St. Canal No. 3
2002
Chromogenic prints
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and
Robert Menschel, 2010
© Matthew Buckingham

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This is the maquette for a postcard that the artist created for the group show “Nostalgia.” The postcard was sold in the shops along Canal Street accompanied by the following text beneath the image:

ABOVE: a section of Canal Street as it might look today if a 1791 proposal to build a “Venetian-style” canal connecting the Hudson and East Rivers across Lower Manhattan had been realized. The canal and an accompanying commercial harbor were meant to replace both a small stream which ran along present-day Canal Street, and the so-called Fresh Water or Collect Pond, a befouled 70-acre swamp that one New York newspaper of the day called a “shocking hole.” Instead, real-estate interests prevailed, and the stream was widened only enough to drain the pool so it could be filled in and developed. Many basements of new buildings on the landfill soon flooded, so the stream was further enlarged to increase drainage – making it, in effect, an open sewer. After much complaint about odor, and despite efforts to beautify the waterway with a tree-lined promenade, it was covered over in 1819. Flaws in this re-design kept Canal Street smelling foul for years. It is rumored that the natural spring which once fed the Fresh Water Pond still flows deep below Canal Street today.* (Wall text from the exhibition)

*Luc Sante defines nostalgia as a state of inarticulate contempt for the present combined with a fear of the future.

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Weng Fen (Chinese, born 1961)
Bird’s Eye View: Haikou V
2002
Chromogenic print
50 x 62.7 cm (19 11/16 x 24 11/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Ellie Warsh, 2009 (2009.539.4)
© Weng Fen

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Weng Fen belongs to a generation of Chinese photographers whose principal subject is a China in the throes of physical, social, economic, and political change. His Bird’s Eye View series focuses on the elevated urbanism of cities such as Haikou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. Many of these photographs feature schoolgirls with their backs to the camera, perched on a wall or precipice, staring at the landscape – adolescent figures on the threshold of personal transition looking out onto a landscape and a culture at a similarly transformational moment. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, born 1959)
Almerisa, Asylum Seekers’ Center, Leiden, The Netherlands, March 14, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
120 x 100 cm (47 1/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Ellen Kern, 2008 (2008.661.1)
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Dijkstra is best known for her portraits of teenage beachgoers in Poland, Croatia, the Ukraine, Belgium, England, and America, which convey the poignant intensity of adolescence with startling eloquence. In all her work, she is particularly drawn to subjects in a state of transition – blood-spattered matadors just minutes after bullfights, women cradling their newborns moments after delivery – and renders them with respect, attentiveness, and compassion.

Between 1994 and 2008 Dijkstra made eleven photographs of a Bosnian refugee girl named Almerisa, from her initial processing at an asylum seekers’ center in the Netherlands to her fully Westernized adulthood and motherhood. Here, the imprint of geopolitical displacement is rendered without cant and that of childhood is captured without nostalgia. Like all great portraitists, Dijkstra extracts an elemental, almost mythic quality from the irreducible individuality of her subject – of the eternal radiating from the everyday. This selection is from a recent gift to the Metropolitan of eight of the eleven portraits of Almerisa.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Information: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday–Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.*
Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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