After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age @Met

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 85 photographic/video works made by 20 different photographers/artists, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in a single room divided space on the museum’s second floor. The works span the period from 1982 to 2010. Physical dimensions and edition information were not provided on the wall labels. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers/artists have been included in the exhibit, with the number of images on view and details in parentheses:

  • Jonathan Anderson and Edwin Low (1 inkjet print, 2009)
  • Nancy Burson (1 gelatin silver print, 1982)
  • Kelli Connell (2 chromogenic prints, 2006)
  • Nancy Davenport (2 chromogenic prints, 2001)
  • Kota Ezawa (1 chromogenic transparency, 2004)
  • Filip Dujardin (1 inkjet print, 2009)
  • Joan Fontcuberta (1 chromogenic print, 2005 )
  • Tom Friedman (1 chromogenic print, 1998)
  • Debbie Grossman (16 inkjet prints, 2010)
  • Beate Gutschow (1 chromogenic print, 2000)
  • Matthew Jensen (1 set of 49 chromogenic prints, 2008-2009)
  • Craig Kalpakjian (1 silver dye bleach print, 1999)
  • Maria Marshall (1 video, 1998)
  • Osamu James Nakagawa (2 inkjet prints, 2008)
  • Robert Polidori (1 chromogenic print, 2007)
  • Matthew Porter (1 inkjet print, 2010)
  • Bradley Rubenstein (1 inkjet print, 1986)
  • Thomas Ruff (1 chromogenic print, 2000)
  • Jason Salavon (1 chromogenic print, 2009)

Comments/Context: As a bookend to the much larger Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop show across the hall (review linked below), the Met’s photography curators have drawn together a sampler of contemporary work from the permanent collection that brings the manipulation story into the present, highlighting how the introduction of more powerful software tools has impacted the medium. There is no particular stated thesis or analytical narrative to this show; it’s a fence-sitter, offering both evolution and revolution without taking sides or picking winners. But the “one of each” example approach does have its own implied conclusion: that these new tools have opened up lots of new artistic freedoms and that profound (and continuing) change is going on in many simultaneous directions.

In many ways, the modern answer to the question of why manipulate is breathtakingly simple: “why not, when we can do so so easily?” This starts with works as seeminngly straightforward as Robert Polidori’s image of Varanasi, where stitched together digital negatives allow the artist to pack more information into a single, still plausibly truthful frame, and ends with countless imagination stretching digital fictions, like Filip Dujardin’s impossible architecture and Beate Gutschow’s fabricated landscapes. Digital composites are a recurring theme here, running the gamut from Nancy Burson’s facial composite of 1980s era world leaders based on their nation’s percentage of warheads to Jason Salavon’s visual average of every portrait by Frans Hals. The Internet-based appropriation trend is represented by a pixelated nude by Thomas Ruff and a series of flared suns drawn from Google Street View by Matthew Jensen. And others are using the new tools to upend our expectations in more subtle and unexpected ways, like Kelli Connell’s doppelganger double portraits and Debbie Grossman’s all female remixing of Russell Lee.

As one might expect, this show leans toward the more conservative edge of the digital realm, leaving out the wilder, more exotic and more experimental edges of contemporary photographic manipulation, especially as it bumps into the fuzzy edge of what we might call digital art. But as a coda to the larger historical show next door, it certainly fulfills its purpose of providing a contemporary reference point, allowing curious viewers to trace the threads from the past all the way into the swirling digital chaos of the present.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are obviously no posted prices for the works on display. As such, I will dispense with the usual discussion of prices, secondary market history, and gallery representation for this review.

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Read more about: Beate Gütschow, Debbie Grossman, Filip Dujardin, Jason Salavon, Kelli Connell, Matthew Jensen, Nancy Burson, Robert Polidori, Thomas Ruff, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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