Everyday Epiphanies: Photography and Daily Life Since 1969 @Met

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of 31 artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in a large single room gallery space on the second floor of the museum. The space has been divided into a main viewing area and a smaller darkened space at the very end of the gallery. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the exhibit, with information on the number of prints on view and other background details to follow:

  • John Baldessari: 1 gelatin silver print, 1971
  • Erica Baum: 1 inkjet print, 2009
  • Jean-Marc Bustamante: 1 chromogenic print, 1997
  • Sophie Calle: 1 gelatin silver print with accompanying text, 1988-1989
  • Gregory Crewdson: 1 chromogenic print, 1988
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia: 1 chromogenic print, 1987
  • William Eggleston: 1 dye transfer print, 1980
  • Fischli & Weiss: 1 chromogenic print, 1979
  • Robert Gober: 1 gelatin silver print, 1999
  • Nan Goldin: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1980
  • Dan Graham: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1969
  • Jan Groover: 1 platinum print, 1980
  • Mike Kelley: 1 gelatin silver print, 1994
  • Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky: 1 single channel video, 1996-1997
  • Brandon Lattu: 1 single channel video, 2013
  • Nikki S. Lee: 1 chromogenic print, 1998
  • Sally Mann: 1 gelatin silver print, 1987
  • Malerie Marder: 1 inkjet print, 1998/2013
  • Tim Maul: 1 chromogenic print, 1981
  • Elizabeth McAlpine: 1 gelatin silver print, 2012
  • Mary Nickerson: 3 chromogenic prints, 1970
  • Gabriel Orozco: 12 silver dye bleach prints, 1991-2003
  • Martha Rosler: 1 single channel black and white video, 1975
  • David Salle: 4 gelatin silver prints with affixed advertisements, 1973
  • Ilene Segalove: 1 single channel black and white and color video, 1974-1978
  • Stephen Shore: 36 chromogenic prints, 1972-1973 (in case)
  • Larry Sultan: 1 chromogenic print, 1989
  • Carrie Mae Weems: 1 gelatin silver print, 1990
  • William Wegman: 1 gelatin silver print, 1972

Comments/Context: With the unspoken rules that exhibitions in the Met’s contemporary photography gallery must be drawn exclusively from the museum’s permanent collection and be organized as surveys of the period from the late 1960s to the present, it’s no wonder that these long running shows are often so broad that their themes seem to dissolve into edited collections of everything. The newest selection of images is tied up under the umbrella of “everyday epiphanies”, a construct that implies a delight in the ordinary, the quotidian, or the familiar, but in fact, reaches outward beyond these routine boundaries to works that have a wide variety of conceptual underpinnings and points of view. With some effort, it’s possible to follow the logic of why each piece has been included here, but when seen together, the diversity of the works on view diminishes the show’s ability to deliver any durable insights.

The works that function best inside this theme are those that capture moments of unexpected, elemental elegance, often as a result of the way the camera sees the world. Jan Groover turns a tangle of kids’ bent arms into a lyrical overlapped abstraction, while Mike Kelley enlarges a dust mote to the point it becomes a swirling mass of lines. Larry Sultan catches the sun as it streams through his father’s newspaper, and Gabriel Orzoco notices the back and forth sweep of a dog’s tail. The video by Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky is perhaps the most graceful of them all, following the tumbling dance of windblown trash on city sidewalks, with the honking traffic as a background score. Why obvious inclusions like Kawauchi, Tillmans, Friedlander, Ghirri, and Parr aren’t among these moments of discovered joy is a mystery.

The “epiphany” angle is instead taken in a different direction by works that play with conceptual inversion, where the startling realization is staged rather than found. In fact, the entire genre of Conceptual Photography, especially as practiced in the early 1970s, could fit under this definition, so the few works on view here, while excellent, seem a bit random when taken in the larger context of that period. That said, William Wegman’s pairing of a sharp and dull knife (where the dull knife is not sharp in terms of its edge and the image itself is blurry) is infectiously witty and Martha Rosler’s video demonstration of kitchen items is uproariously violent (who knew opening a can or using measuring spoons could be so passionate?) Robert Gober picks up a similar line of deviant thinking in the late 1990s, with his industrial drain unexpectedly inserted into the natural environment of a mossy forest floor.

The show includes only three works made in the last decade, which is surprising, since we might have assumed that lots of fanciful digital “epiphanies” would have emerged during that time. Erica Baum’s dog eared book pages are a solid choice, with their chance juxtapositions of angled sentence fragments. Elizabeth McAlpine’s work was new discovery for me, her ethereal shaped photograph a result of a complex molded camera construction and multiple pinhole openings. Brandon Lattu’s video explores the unexpected connections made by computer intelligence, where face recognition software attempts to match images from popular culture and advertising, creating a mesmerizing sequence of similar morphing faces.

Like most of its predecessors, this show brings together plenty of intriguing and worthy photography, but ultimately the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. We’re left remembering a highlight here or a highlight there, and losing sight of the overarching idea that ostensibly connected the dots. I’m grateful that the Met has a dedicated venue for contemporary photography, and these surveys certainly expose visitors to a consistently wide rage of work. But I am always left wanting something crisper and more tightly edited, a show that takes a stand of some kind rather than always trying to cover everything.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are obviously no posted prices for the works on display. Given the diversity of photography on view, we’ll dispense with the usual discussion of secondary market prices and artist representation.

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Read more about: Brandon Lattu, Carrie Mae Weems, Dan Graham, David Salle, Elizabeth McAlpine, Erica Baum, Gabriel Orozco, Gregory Crewdson, Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky, Ilene Segalove, Jan Groover, Jean-Marc Bustamante, John Baldessari, Larry Sultan, Malerie Marder, Martha Rosler, Mary Nickerson, Mike Kelley, Nan Goldin, Nikki S. Lee, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Robert Gober, Sally Mann, Sophie Calle, Stephen Shore, Tim Maul, William Eggleston, William Wegman, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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