21
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Now You See It: Photography and Concealment’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 1st September 2014

 

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.

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899-1968 New York) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' January 27, 1942, printed c. 1983

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899-1968 New York)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
January 27, 1942, printed c. 1983
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 41.4 cm. (12 1/2 x 16 5/16 in.)
Gift of Aaron and Jessica Rose, 1983
Rights and Reproduction: © Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972) 'Occasion for Diriment' 1962

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972)
Occasion for Diriment
1962
Gelatin silver print
18.0 x 18.7 cm (7 1/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Rogers Fund, 1967
© The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard was a photographer and optician who spent the last two decades of his life in Lexington, Kentucky, producing an eccentric body of work at some remove from the photographic mainstream. He often posed his family and friends in enigmatic tableaux with props such as dolls and rubber masks, imbuing his images with a haunting Surrealist sensibility. The curious title of this photograph stems from Meatyard’s passion for odd names, puns, and peculiar words and phrases. Diriment is a made-up word, a Lewis Carroll-like compound of “dire” and “merriment” that suggests a mood of high-spirited fun and hilarity fraught with anxious undertones.

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born Aberdeen, Washington, 1934) 'Shadow, New York City' 1966, printed 1973

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born Aberdeen, Washington, 1934)
Shadow, New York City
1966, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
16.0 x 24.1 cm. (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924) 'Covered Car - Long Beach, California' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924)
Covered Car – Long Beach, California
1955
Gelatin silver print
21.4 x 32.7 cm (8 7/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

 

 

“Photography is a medium prized for its capacity to expose, lay bare, make visible. For many artists, the camera is, above all, a tool for revealing what would otherwise remain unnoticed. As Diane Arbus once said: “I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.” At the root of this artistic impulse is a keen fascination with that which is hidden, obscure, or hitherto unseen. This exhibition presents a selection of contemporary photographs and video from the permanent collection that variously explores the medium’s dynamic interplay between concealment and revelation.

Some of the artists featured here use the camera to reveal subjects or places ordinarily hidden, as in Vera Lutter’s majestic view of the interior of a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant or Miguel Rio Branco’s lush image of a tapestry’s seamy underside. Others address instances of geopolitical obfuscation: Fazal Sheikh’s aerial photographs of the Negev desert in southern Israel record the traces of Bedouin villages that have been transformed into forests or farmland, while Mishka Henner collects images of stylishly censored high-security sites on Google Earth. In Vault (2011), Thomas Demand takes his inspiration from current events, meticulously re-creating a storeroom in which thirty missing works of art were discovered during a recent police raid.

The tension between publicity and privacy – the simultaneous desire to be looked at and to evade the merciless gaze of the camera – animates the work of artists as diverse as Arbus, Lutz Bacher, Jack Pierson, and Taryn Simon. In her video, The Nightingale (2003), Grace Ndiritu explores the tradition of the veil and its complex poetics of exposure and effacement. Complementing the contemporary works on view is a selection of earlier photographs in which the primary subject is hidden or obscured – a brief anthology of playfulness, shame, and seduction.

 

Fazal Sheikh (American, born 1965) 'Desert Bloom' (various numbers) 2011

 

Fazal Sheikh (American, born 1965)
Desert Bloom (various numbers)
2011
Excerpt from the Erasure Trilogy
Inkjet print
Image: 40 × 60 cm (15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in.) Sheet: 52.1 × 72.1 cm (20 1/2 × 28 3/8 in.) Frame: 73.7 × 53.3 cm (29 × 21 in.)
Purchase, Jane P. Watkins Gift, 2013

 

In 2011 the French photographer Frederic Brenner invited eleven prominent photographers to spend six months in residence in Israel and the Occupied Territories, or West Bank, to explore the area’s complexity and to create bodies of work that might broaden and reframe the conversation about the region. Among those invited was Sheikh, an artist best known for his sensitive black-and-white portraits of people living in displaced and marginalized communities around the world. Sheikh’s project takes the form of a trilogy titled Erasure, of which Desert Bloom is the central part. The images were made during several months of flying above the Negev desert and are intended to articulate the rapid transformation of the region. On the one hand, they invoke the Israeli endeavor to “make the desert bloom,” and on the other, they reveal traces of the Negev’s history: the construction of towns for the Bedouin, the natural erosion of the land, the demolition of local dwellings, the remains of military installations, the afforestation campaigns of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and the transformation of nomadic desert regions into farmland.

 

demand-vault-WEB

 

Thomas Demand (German, born 1964)
Vault
2012
Chromogenic print
220 x 276.9 cm (86 5/8 x 109 in.)
Purchase, Louis V. Bell Fund; Alfred Stieglitz Society, The Fledgling Fund, through Diana Barrett and Robert Vila, Joseph M. and Barbara Cohen Foundation Inc. and Hideyuki Osawa Gifts, 2013
© Thomas Demand / Artist’s Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Demand’s photographs of the paper constructions he builds in his studio are typically based on photographs related to politically charged real-world events. He begins with an existing image, usually culled from the news media, which he translates into a three-dimensional life-sized model made of colored paper and cardboard. The models are then carefully lit and photographed, after which they are destroyed. Three times removed from the scenes they depict, Demand’s works are masterpieces of pictorial ambiguity that occupy a mesmerizing middle ground between reality and artifice.

Vault is based on a police photograph of a storeroom at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, where thirty paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades were discovered during a police raid in 2011. The missing artworks belong to the heirs of a French Jewish family displaced during the Holocaust. In Demand’s picture, as in the photograph on which it is based, the framed paintings – which include works by Degas, Manet, and Morisot – are turned to face the walls and remain tantalizingly hidden from view.

 

Vera Lutter (German, born Kaiserslautern, 1960) 'Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13, 2000' 2000

 

Vera Lutter (German, born Kaiserslautern, 1960)
Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13, 2000
2000
Gelatin silver print
Overall installation: 90 3/4 in. × 14 ft. 3/4 in. (230.5 × 428.6 cm) Sheet (A): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Sheet (B): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Sheet (C): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Frame (each): 90 3/4 × 56 1/4 in. (230.5 × 142.9 cm)
Purchase, Joseph M. and Barbara Cohen Foundation Inc. Gift, 2001
© Vera Lutter

 

While the basis for Lutter’s technique – the camera obscura – is older than photography itself, her images and subject matter are wholly modern. This enormous negative print was made inside a room-sized pinhole camera that Lutter built in a derelict Pepsi-Cola bottling plant on the East River in Hunters Point, Queens. After pinning three huge sheets of photographic paper opposite the camera’s pinhole aperture, she worked inside the camera to monitor and manipulate the light during the weeklong exposure. The bottling plant itself closed in 1999 and was later demolished.

 

Mishka Henner (British, born 1976) 'Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Overijssel' 2011, printed 2014

 

Mishka Henner (British, born 1976)
Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Overijssel
2011, printed 2014
From the series Dutch Landscapes
Inkjet print
31 1/2 × 35 7/16 in. (80 × 90 cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2014
© Mishka Henner

 

In his “Dutch Landscapes” series, Henner selects and reproduces images of the Netherlands found on Google Earth. The multicolored shapes punctuating these landscapes were created not by the artist but at the behest of the Dutch government. When Google Earth was introduced in 2005, satellite imagery of the entire planet became freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. This sudden visibility created concerns among many governments, who required Google – or its image suppliers – to obscure the details of sites deemed vital to national security. While most nations employed standard techniques, such as blurring, pixilation, or digital cloning, the Dutch chose to conceal hundreds of sites – including royal palaces, army barracks, and fuel depots – with bold, multicolored polygons. “There is of course an absurdity to these censored images,” Henner has written, “since their overt, bold and graphic nature only draws attention to the very sites that are meant to be hidden. Yet this contradiction seems perfectly apt for the absurd fear of terror that has come to dominate the cultural landscape of the last decade.”

 

 

Now You See It: Photography and Concealment, an installation of 25 works at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, focuses on the dynamic interplay between concealment and revelation in contemporary photography and video art. The featured works, all from the Museum’s Department of Photographs, range from a late 19th-century photograph by Pierre-Louis Pierson to a recently acquired work by Thomas Demand.

The installation presents works by artists who use the camera to reveal subjects or places ordinarily hidden from view, as well as works that explore broader themes of secrecy and obscured or partial vision. A highlight of Now You See It is Thomas Demand’s photograph Vault (2012). The image is based on a police photograph of a storeroom at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, where 30 paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades were discovered during a police raid in 2011. In Demand’s picture, as in the photograph on which it is based, the framed art works are turned to face the walls, remaining tantalizingly hidden from view. Other highlights include Vera Lutter’s haunting view of the seldom seen interior of the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Queens, New York, Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13 (2000), and Fazal Sheikh’s Desert Bloom (2011), a series of aerial photographs of the Negev desert. In Grace Nditru’s acclaimed video The Nightingale (2003), the artist explores the tradition of the veil and its complex associations of exposure and effacement. Accompanied by a recording of the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Ndiritu evokes a rapid-fire series of cultural references as she performs a hypnotic, Scheherazade-like series of gestures and movements with a piece of fabric, swiftly transforming it from turban to blindfold, and do-rag to noose to niqab. The tension between publicity and privacy, inherent in the field of photography, is explored in works by artists as diverse as Diane Arbus, Lutz Bacher, Jack Pierson, and Taryn Simon. The 20th-century photographs on view present the theme of concealment in a literal way and include Weegee’s Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces (January 27, 1942) and Helen Levitt’s Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City (c. 1942).

Now You See It: Photography and Concealment is organized by Mia Fineman, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) [Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City] c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
[Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
Image approx.: 9 × 6 in. (22.9 × 15.2 cm)
Promised Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt
© Estate of Helen Levitt

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) [Kids on the Street Playing Hide and Seek, New York City] c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
[Kids on the Street Playing Hide and Seek, New York City]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (24.8 × 17.1 cm)
Promised Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt
© Estate of Helen Levitt

 

Attributed to Juliette Alexandre-Bisson (French, 1861-1956) [Birth of Ectoplasm During Séance with the Medium Eva C.] 1919-20

 

Attributed to Juliette Alexandre-Bisson (French, 1861-1956)
[Birth of Ectoplasm During Séance with the Medium Eva C.]
1919-20
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 8.9 cm (4 5/8 x 3 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

Bill Wasilevich (American, active 1940s) 'Jimmy "One Eye" Collins After Arraignment' 1946

 

Bill Wasilevich (American, active 1940s)
Jimmy “One Eye” Collins After Arraignment
1946
Gelatin silver print
18.6 x 14.4 cm (7 5/16 x 5 11/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008
© Steve Schapiro/Corbis

 

 

Grace Ndiritu (British, born 1976)
The Nightingale
2003
Video
Gift of the artist, 2009
© 2003 Grace Ndiritu, Courtesy Grace Ndiritu and LUX, London

 

Before a camera fixed on her face and neck and accompanied by a recording of the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Ndiritu performs a hypnotic, Scheherazade-like series of gestures and movements with a piece of fabric, swiftly transforming it from turban to blindfold, from do-rag to noose to niqab. Both jubilant and unsettling, the video evokes a rapid-fire series of cultural references, counterposing the enforced modesty of the Islamic world with Western fantasies of exoticism. Ndiritu, who studied textiles at the Winchester School of Art, acquired this simple red-and-white scarf while traveling in India and carried it with her as a talisman through years of global exploration.

 

Jack Pierson (American, born 1960) 'The Lonely Life' 1992

 

Jack Pierson (American, born 1960)
The Lonely Life
1992
Chromogenic print
Frame: 76.2 × 101.6 cm (30 × 40 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2000
© Jack Pierson

 

In 1994, Pierson was invited by the Whitney Museum of American Art to show his photographs alongside a group of works by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) that the artist selected from their vast holdings. Like Hopper, Pierson creates works that are inherently cinematic in their scope and effects; both are primarily concerned with mood, atmosphere, and exhibit a particularly urban kind of melancholy. His greatest asset, however, is an almost overwhelmingly lush palette, which he uses to depict objects of desire or scenes that are unabashedly sensual and emotional. An excellent example of the artist’s high-key chromaticism, The Lonely Life describes the unique brand of loneliness shared by the performer and the fan, both of whom (like Pierson) are doomed to experience existence solely through the intoxications of art.

 

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913) 'Scherzo di Follia' 1861-67, printed c. 1930

 

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913)
Scherzo di Follia
1861-67, printed c. 1930
Gelatin silver print from glass negative
39.8 x 29.8 cm (15 11/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

Virginia Oldoini, Countess Verasis de Castiglione (1837-1899), created a sensation when she appeared on the social scene in Paris in 1855, having been sent by the Italian statesman Cavour to secretly win Napoleon III over to the cause of Italian unity by “any means she chose.” Within months, the statuesque beauty was the mistress of Napoleon III and a much-talked-about ornament of the lavish balls so prevalent during the period. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, she led an increasingly secluded existence, which gave rise to fantastic speculation about her affairs. As the years went by, her mental stability declined and she ventured out only at night, shrouded in veils.

The countess’s raging narcissism found in photography the perfect ally; Pierre-Louis Pierson produced over seven hundred different images of her. In a reversal of roles, the sitter would direct every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as a mere tool in her pursuit of self-promotion and self-expression.

 

 

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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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