Exhibition: ‘After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 22nd March, 2011 – 2nd January, 2012


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



Hans Haacke (German, born 1936). 'Thank You, Paine Webber' 1979


Hans Haacke (German, b. 1936)
Thank You, Paine Webber
Gelatin silver print and chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
© Hans Haacke



Since the early 1970s Haacke has taken on the intertwined political and corporate forces that use cultural patronage as a smokescreen to advance interests that are often antithetical to the vitality of free speech and expression in democracies. Haacke made this work just as the strategy of appropriation – lifting an image out of its original context and re-presenting it in critical fashion – began to make waves in the New York art world of the late 1970s. Like all effective appropriation, it exposes a prior instance of borrowing – in this case, how the investment firm Paine Webber used a documentary photograph to give its annual report the veneer of social concern. The artist then pointedly contrasted it with an image from the same annual report of a beaming trio of executives in a painting-lined gallery. As a counterpoint to the protestor’s signboard, Haacke dropped in text from a different Paine Webber ad campaign to show on whose backs the “risk management” is taking place – a biting indictment, the relevance of which has only increased since the recent economic downturn.

Wall text


Jeff Wall (Canadian, born 1946). 'The Storyteller' 1986


Jeff Wall (Canadian, b. 1946)
The Storyteller
Silver dye bleach transparency in light box
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charlene and David Howe, Henry Nias Foundation Inc., Jennifer and Robert Yaffa, Harriet Ames Charitable Trust, and Gary and Sarah Wolkowitz Gifts, 2006
Image courtesy of the artist © Jeff Wall



Wall’s staged tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. His subjects are scenes of urban and suburban disarray that he witnessed firsthand – the kinds of things anyone might see while wandering around a city and its outskirts. Working like a movie director, he restages the scene using nonprofessionals as actors and presents his photographs as colour transparencies in light boxes such as those of large-scale public advertisements found at airports and bus stops. The scale and ambition of his pictures – scenes of everyday life shot through with larger intimations of political struggle – equally evoke the Salon paintings of nineteenth century French painters such as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, which were themselves brazen combinations of canonical and contemporary subjects.

The Storyteller is set in a barren, leftover slice of land next to a highway overpass in Vancouver, where the artist lives. Various groupings of modern urban castaways – perhaps descendants of the Native Americans who occupied the land before the arrival of Europeans – are dispersed around the hillside, a mini-catalogue of art-historical reference. Like the upside-down, half-submerged figure of Icarus in the background of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the woman speaking and gesticulating to the two men listening at the lower left becomes the key to unifying the fractured and alienating environment from which Wall’s picture is constructed.

Wall text


Laurie Simmons (American, born 1949). 'Walking Gun' 1991


Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Walking Gun
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1998
© Laurie Simmons



The early 1990s marked the last moment when a wide swath of women artists responded to the sexism they saw as pervasive in the culture – from the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith to the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Clarence Thomas. A pioneer of set-up photography, Simmons dramatically expanded the scale of her constructed tableaux for a series of spotlighted puppet-like objects perched atop doll legs: revolvers, houses, cameras, and cakes. This armed and dangerous example refers to the old-movie cliché where a man carrying a gun is shown in shadow profile. Here, Simmons offers instead the death-dealing seductress – also familiar from film noir – in monumental miniature, a doll capable of turning on its master at a moment’s notice.

Wall text


Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, born 1953). 'Todd M. Brooks, 22 Years Old, from Denver, Colorado, $40' 1991


Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, b. 1953)
Todd M. Brooks, 22 Years Old, from Denver, Colorado, $40
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1991
Image courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York
© Philip-Lorca diCorcia



The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection from March 22, 2011, through January 2, 2012, in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography. Drawn entirely from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features 25 photographs dating from 1979 to the present by 15 contemporary artists.

The exhibition’s title, After the Gold Rush, is taken from a classic 1970 song by Neil Young, whose verses contrast a romanticised past with a present of squandered plenty and an uncertain future. Inspired by the recent political and economic upheavals in America and abroad, this selection juxtaposes new photographs that take the long view of the world’s current condition with prescient works from the 1980s and 1990s that remain startlingly relevant today.

This is the first occasion for the Museum to present recently acquired works by: Gretchen Bender, James Casebere, Moyra Davey, Katy Grannan, Hans Haacke, An-My Lê, Curtis Mann, Trevor Paglen, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Also featured are photographs by: Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Robert Gober, Adrian Piper, Laurie Simmons, Jeff Wall, and Christopher Williams.

After the Gold Rush begins with Hans Haacke’s Thank You, Paine Webber (1979) – the first work by this legendary provocateur of Conceptual art to enter the Metropolitan’s collection. Haacke’s biting photo-diptych is so pertinent to the recent economic downturn that it seems as if it could have been made yesterday. In this work, the artist appropriated images from the investment firm’s annual report to convey his viewpoint that big business provides a veneer of social concern to mask the brutal effects of the “risk management” they offer their clients.

Other works in After the Gold Rush use varying degrees of artifice and photographic realism to reflect on marginalised and repressed voices. Measuring over 14 feet long and presented as a backlit transparency in a light box, The Storyteller (1986) is Jeff Wall’s signature image and is typical of his method. Working from memory, the artist uses nonprofessional actors and real locations to meticulously restage a scene of urban blight that he witnessed in his native Vancouver. Wall plays this photographic verisimilitude against compositions and figural poses indebted to French painters such as Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and Georges Seurat. A comparison of Wall’s Storyteller with Courbet’s Young Ladies of the Village (1852), on view in the Museum’s galleries for Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture, reveals parallels: in both, a keenly observed moment of telling social interaction taking place on a sloping landscape. Each artist has combined a daringly modern subject with references to earlier art.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia is another key figure in the development of staged photography. In the early 1990s, the artist created a series of works in response to the political attacks on gays and federal funding of the arts in the U.S. DiCorcia hired male hustlers to pose for their portraits out on the streets – and paid them with grant money he received from the National Endowment for the Arts. At the same moment, a wide swath of women artists addressed issues of sexism and racism: examples of this politically pointed art are represented by Laurie Simmons’ Walking Gun (1991) – a spotlighted puppet of doll legs and a revolver that seems capable of turning on its master at a moment’s notice – and Adrian Piper’s 1992 work Decide Who You Are #24 (A Moving Target), which includes a childhood image of Anita Hill as part of a blistering meditation in word and image on racial politics. Such works are missives from a time not so long ago when artists regularly commented on present-day politics and culture through their art. (Because of light sensitivity, this work by Adrian Piper will be on view through Sunday, September 26.)

Although the recently made photographs in After the Gold Rush seem at first glance to be less overtly political than their predecessors, they nevertheless address vital issues about contemporary society. James Casebere’s epic vision of America, Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1, (2009), is based on a tabletop model that the artist spent 18 months building. The photograph shows a suburban subdivision of the kind recently ravaged by the foreclosure crisis, and its sunny sense of “Morning in America” comments ironically on the country’s future prospects. An-My Lê’s similarly sweeping five-part photographic piece Suez Canal Transit, USS Dwight Eisenhower, Egypt (2009) will also be featured. Lê is interested in the way in which U.S. armed forces come into contact with the rest of the world. This major new work – which seems at first to be a straightforward panorama of military might overseas – subtly undercuts the viewer’s expectations to question the current position of the U.S. on the global stage.

Trevor Paglen is a young artist whose works plot the “black world” of covert military operations, from telephoto images of predator drones taken from miles away, to software that follows planes used for the extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists. Paglen’s 2008 photograph KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaissance Satellite; USA 186) shows the ghostly white streak of an American reconnaissance satellite bisecting star trails above Yosemite’s Half Dome, a rock formation photographed in the 1860s by artists including Carleton Watkins. To make these and other photographs, Paglen collaborated with amateur astronomers who were originally trained by the U.S. government to look out for Soviet satellites during the Cold War, but turned their attention to American surveillance in recent years.

The final piece in After the Gold Rush is a suite of five recently acquired photographs from 2007-2009 by the celebrated photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The grouping shifts focus from macro to micro: from expansive aerial views of Shanghai and Dubai to close ups that suggest the smallest increments of sustenance and regeneration. Taken together, they evoke the interconnectedness of all things and a grounding of the political in the personal as a way for an engaged yet expressive art.

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website


Adrian Piper (American, born 1948). 'Decide Who You Are #24: A Moving Target' 1992


Adrian Piper (American, b. 1948)
Decide Who You Are #24: A Moving Target
Photo-mechanical processes on three panels
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Peter Norton Family Foundation, 1994
© Adrian Piper



Piper is an artist and a philosophy professor who works in a variety of media, including performance, video, sound pieces, photography, drawing, and writing. She often explores issues of autobiography, racism, and stereotyping. For her 1992 series Decide Who You Are, the artist used a triptych format in which a different appropriated photograph is flanked by an image of the “three wise monkeys” maxim advocating “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” at left, and at right a photograph of a young girl who, though not identified, is Anita Hill – who had recently been thrust into the spotlight for accusing then-nominee for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The verse in the left panel changes in each individual work in the series, while that on the right is unchanging – what the artist once described as “a comprehensive, textbook compendium of commonly invoked litanies of denial and intimidation, from the bland to the vaguely menacing” and “a must for novices and aspiring leaders in business, politics, and culture.”

Wall text


Christopher Williams (American, born 1956). '3 White (DG's Mr. Postman) Fourth Race, Phoenix Greyhound Park, Phoenix, Arizona, August 22, 1994' 1994


Christopher Williams (American, b. 1956)
3 White (DG’s Mr. Postman) Fourth Race, Phoenix Greyhound Park, Phoenix, Arizona, August 22, 1994
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charina Foundation Inc. and Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gifts, 2003
© Christopher Williams


Robert Gober (American, born 1954). 'Untitled (Detail from "1978-2000")' 2000


Robert Gober (American, b. 1954)
Untitled (Detail from “1978-2000”)
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2002
© Robert Gober


James Casebere (American, born 1953). 'Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1' 2009


James Casebere (American, b. 1953)
Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2011
© James Casebere


Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968).' Oriental Pearl' 2009


Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Oriental Pearl
Inkjet print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
Image courtesy the artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
© Wolfgang Tillmans



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Phone: 212-535-7710

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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