Fall Reveal @MoMA

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 rehung permanent collection galleries, arrayed across the second, fourth, and fifth floors on the museum.

The photographs included in each room are as follows:

508 According to the Laws of Chance

  • Hannah Höch: 1 cut and pasted printed paper and watercolor on paper, 1945
  • Marcel Duchamp: 2 collotype reproductions from a box of 94, 1934
  • Valie Export: 1 video, 5 minutes 40 seconds, black and white with sound, 2010
  • Man Ray: 1 digital transfer of 35mm film, 2 minutes 40 seconds, 1923

509 New York City, 1920s

  • James Van Der Zee: 1 gelatin silver print, 1932
  • Walker Evans: 1 gelatin silver print, 1929
  • Paul Rosenfeld, Herbert J. Seligmann, and Alfred Steiglitz editors: 1 pamphlet, 1922
  • Oscar Micheaux: 1 digital transfer of 35 mm film, 4 minutes, 1932

510 A Modern Media World

  • Tina Modotti: 1 palladium print, c1925
  • Aleksandr Rodchenko: 1 gelatin silver print, 1928
  • Lester Beall: 1 silkscreen, 1937
  • Associated Press: 1 gelatin silver print, 1937
  • Unknown: 1 gelatin silver print, 1928
  • László Moholy-Nagy: 1 gelatin silver print photomontage, 1940, 1 related photobook, 1925/1927
  • Albert Renger-Patzsch: 1 gelatin silver print, 1922, 1 related photobook, 1928
  • Germaine Krull: 1 gelatin silver print, 1928, 1 related photobook, 1928
  • Edward Weston: 1 gelatin silver print, 1923/1966, 1 related photobook, 1929
  • August Sander: 1 gelatin silver print, 1912, 1 related photobook, 1929
  • Aenne Biermann: 1 gelatin silver print, 1926, 1 related photobook, 1930
  • Eugène Atget: 1 matte albumen silver print, 1921, 1 related photobook, 1030
  • Doris Ulmann: 1 photogravure, 1929-1931, 1 related photobook, 1933
  • Bill Brandt: 1 gelatin silver print, 1933, 1 related photobook, 1936
  • Margaret Bourke-White: 1 gelatin silver print, 1936, 1 related photobook, 1937
  • Horacio Coppola: 1 gelatin silver print, 1936, 1 related photobook, 1937
  • Robert McNeill: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1937, 1 related magazine spread, 1938
  • Tina Modotti: 1 palladium print 1927, 1 gelatin silver print, 1928/1976, 1 related magazine cover, 1928, 1 related newspaper, 1928
  • Berenice Abbott: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1935, 1936, 1 related magazine spread, 1931
  • Imogen Cunningham: 1 gelatin silver print, 1927, 1 related magazine, 1928
  • Margaret Watkins: 1 gelatin silver print, 1919, 1 related magazine, 1921
  • André Kertész: 1 gelatin silver print, 1933, 1 related magazine, 1933
  • Brassaï: 1 gelatin silver print, 1933, 1 related magazine spread, 1933
  • Xanti Schawinsky: 1 letterpress product brochure, 1934
  • Iwata Nakayama, 1 gelatin silver print, 1930
  • Unknown: 1 lithograph, 1932
  • Ilse Bing: 1 gelatin silver print, 1933
  • Ralph Steiner: 1 gelatin silver print, 1929
  • Elisabeth Hase: 1 geltain silver print, 1931
  • Paul Outerbridge: 1 gelatin silver print, 1922
  • W. Grancel Fitz: 1 gelatin silver print, 1928 or 1929
  • Ringl + Pit: 1 gelatin silver print, 1930
  • Pathe News: 1 film loop, 5 minutes, 1926, 1928
  • Vitrine with telephone, radio, and photo albums, 1916-1923, 1925-1927, 1932, 1933

511 Ornament and Abstraction

  • Frank Lloyd Wright: 1 gelatin silver print, 1918-1921
  • Richard Riemerschmid: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1900/1901
  • Theo van Doesburg: 4 gelatin silver prints, 1926-1928

512 Circle and Square, Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Piet Mondrian (no photography)

516 Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977 (no photography)

408 Everyday Encounters

  • Shomei Tomatsu: 3 gelatin silver prints, 1959, 1960
  • Carolee Schneemann: 6 gelatin silver prints, 1963/2005

409 Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime”

  • Unknown: 1 set of 6 albumen silver prints, 1870s-1880s
  • Alphonse Bertillon: 1 albumen silver print, 1893, 1 letterpress book with collotype illustrations, 1893
  • Prefecture de Police, Paris: 1 albumen silver print, 1895
  • Times Wide World Photos: 3 gelatin silver prints, 1927, 1934
  • Unknown: 1 gelatin silver print, 1934
  • AP: 1 gelatin silver print, 1934
  • Weegee: 1 gelatin silver print, 1942
  • Roger Higgins/AP: 1 gelatin silver print, 1951
  • George Tames/New York Times: 1 gelatin silver print, 1948
  • Meyer Leibovitz/New York Times: 1 gelatin silver print, 1957
  • Gordon Parks: 16 pigmented inkjet prints, 1957/2019
  • plus 1 vitrine: 5 LIFE magazine spreads, 1957
  • Dorothea Lange: 1 gelatin silver print, 1955-57
  • Gordon Parks: 1 gelatin silver print, 1957
  • Bob Jackson: 1 gelatin silver print, 1963
  • Danny Lyon: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1967-1969
  • Leonard Freed: 1 gelatin silver print, 1972
  • John Hubbard: 1 gelatin silver print, 1969
  • Gordon Parks: 1 digital transfer of 35mm film, 3 minutes, 1971

410 Nam June Paik, Instant Zen (no photography)

411 Andy Warhol’s Empire 

  • Andy Warhol: 1 16 mm film transferred to video, 8 hours 5 minutes, 1964

412 Domestic Disruption (no photography)

413 Touching the Void

  • Liliana Porter: 10 photogravures, 1968
  • Bruce Nauman: 1 black and white video, sound, 60 minutes, 1968

414 General Idea’s Magic Bullet (no photography)

206 The Sum of All Parts

  • Sue Williamson: 1 set of 49 photocopies, 1990

207 Assembly

  • Cady Noland: 5 cut printed paper in artist’s frame, 1989-1994

208 After the Wall

  • Sanja Iveković: 1 video, color, sound, 4 minutes, 1982
  • Michael Schmidt: 31 gelatin silver prints, 1991-1992
  • Boris Mikhailov: 1 chromogenic print, 1997-1998
  • Sibylle Bergemann: 1 set of 6 gelatin silver prints, 1976-1986

209 Search Engines

  • Sara Cwynar: 1 chromogenic color print, 2018
  • Wangechi Mutu: 1 set of 8 etchings with collage additions, 2006
  • Petra Cortright: 1 livestream video, color, sound, 1 minute 43 seconds, 2019

211 Carrie Mae Weems’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried

  • Carrie Mae Weems: 33 chromogenic color prints with sandblasted text on glass, 1995-1996

212 Cao Fei’s Whose Utopia

  • Cao Fei: 1 video, color, sound, 20 minutes 20 seconds, 2006

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: When the Museum of Modern Art reopened in the fall of 2019 after a major renovation, there was plenty of pent-up interest in the art world in seeing how the permanent collection galleries would be installed. Not only had there been an expansion and redesign of the physical gallery spaces, wholesale changes in how the curatorial departments would interact were also being introduced – including a streamlined, more fully integrated flow of art history, rather than the previous medium-based (painting here, sculpture there, photography somewhere else) silos and defined galleries.

At the time of the re-opening, the permanent collection exhibition was spread across three floors of the museum, in chronological, and in some cases, thematic groupings, and soon after the spaces were unveiled, we took systematic stock of the photography on display in three separate in-depth reports, as divided across the various floors: 1880s-1940s (reviewed here), 1940s-1970s (reviewed here), and 1970s-Present (reviewed here). The museum’s plan was never to make one definitive and final statement about the flow of art history, but to periodically rehang different rooms to freshen up the galleries and create the potential for new connections and relationships. While the global pandemic and the closing of the museum for a period of a time temporarily put that schedule on hold, earlier this fall, roughly a third of the galleries were rehung with different artworks, and this partial rethinking of the permanent collection was called the Fall Reveal.

Once again, as had happened after the initial re-opening, the press around these new rooms almost entirely omitted the photography that had been included. And so we have returned with another summary report on the photography now on view in the rehung galleries. This report only examines the roughly 20 galleries that have changed during the Fall Reveal, so for those that want to piece together a map of what is on view across the entire museum, you will need to jump back and forth between this report and the three earlier ones, incrementally replacing the old information with the new details here, on a numbered room-by-room basis.

Starting on the fifth floor of the museum, the early chronology stays the same until we reach the 1920s, where two notable omissions from the first installation have been better addressed. While readymades were previously given a room of their own, and were photographically represented by a small selection of Man Ray rayographs, that first edit didn’t really address the parts of Dada that were tied to accident, chance, and a deliberate embrace of randomness. This has been rectified here, with a collage from Hannah Höch, photogravures by Marcel Duchamp, and a jittery film by Man Ray. A dice-rolling contemporary video by Valie Export has also been included in one corner, adding an anachronistic across-the-decades link of ideas.

More importantly, the first installation largely glossed over the historical linchpin of between-the-wars photographic Modernism, which was altogether unexpected and in many ways baffling, given the museum’s longstanding interest in that period. Thankfully Modernism has been reinstated in its own full-room presentation here, but with a very smart curatorial twist that injects some energy into the proceedings. The Modernist photographs on view have been organized using a framework of distribution media, highlighting how the media landscape was quickly changing and how photographs were increasingly being delivered to viewers via newspapers, magazines, photobooks, and even movie reels. One small wall, and an accompanying vitrine, have telephone, radio, and other transmission technologies as their subject matter, the radical upward and downward angles of Tina Modotti and Aleksandr Rodchenko balanced by the radio transmission distortions of an AP photograph of famed aviator Amelia Earhart.

The next wall is a powerhouse display of Modernist icons, the parade of images matched in lockstep by accompanying photobooks in the vitrine below, making a clear point that the prints and more rarely seen photobooks belong on equal footing. While some of the image and spread choices aren’t the most famous, few will quibble with a lineup that runs from Moholy-Nagy, Renger-Patzsch, Krull, Weston, and Sander through to Biermann, Atget, Ulmann, Brandt, Bourke-White, and Coppola. The same might be said of the next wall focused on photographs in newspapers and magazines, with prints intermingled with reproductions of the spreads affixed directly to the wall, hitting Modotti, Abbott, Cunningham, Watkins (Margaret), Kertész, and Brassaï in quick succession. Another turn leads down a wall of advertising-driven still life imagery, where gloves, apricots, shirt collars, cellophane, and soap suds are transformed into crisp studies of form by Bing, Steiner, Hase, Outerbridge, and others. The room wraps up with a series of newsreels of headline-catching events of the late 1920s, giving us a feel for the visual moments (an airship flight, Valentino’s funeral) that people were watching at the time. Seen together, the elemental forms and machine-age optimism of Modernism are given context by both the touch of the masses and the burgeoning delivery mechanisms of the new age.

Down on the fourth floor, aside from an unexpected across-the-room pairing of prints by Shomei Tomatsu and Carolee Schneemann, and in another room, a group of Liliana Porter photogravures of step-by-step paper crumpling, there is really only one new integrated photographic statement. Replacing what was previously a survey of 1950s era photographic abstraction, the room is anchored by sixteen color prints from Gordon Parks’s 1957 series “The Atmosphere of Crime” (along with one vintage black-and-white print from the same series and a short film clip from Parks’s 1971 movie Shaft), and bookended by additional works gathered under a broader crime theme. Set against a grey wall, the colors in the Parks prints really pop, with twilight blues, seething oranges, and jailhouse yellows adding to the incisiveness of his vision. While we have written about this body of work before (as seen in photobook form, here), the work resonates even more strongly seen in person, with Parks carefully offering visual evidence of the consistent power imbalance between black citizens and white police. The surrounding images by other photographers have a tough time competing with these pictures, but standouts by Weegee, Lange, Lyon, Freed, and other newspaper photographers provide help context for the ways different artists were making images of criminals, prisons, and policing in the surrounding years.

When we reach the second floor and the most contemporary works in the permanent collection display, the photography throughline gets noticeably more diffuse, and the new installations don’t improve that situation significantly. An excellent array of shadowy color photocopies of one man’s apartheid-era South African passbooks, detailing a lifetime of governmental control and injustice, is placed in a wide open gallery of large or multi-part artworks, but it is the only photographic work on view in the display. The flow of contemporary rooms once held a selection of works from post-Tiananmen China, and in spirit, this has been geographically replaced by a group of photographic and video works from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The photographic choices here are all solid, with Iveković, Schmidt, Mikhailov, and Bergemann offering triangulating perspectives (and long lasting emotional traumas) from Croatia, East Germany, and Ukraine.

Since the first iteration of MoMA’s permanent collection survey did so poorly in addressing the disruption of digital technology in photography in the past few decades, I had high hopes for a new room titled “Search Engines”, with a mandate to consider how artists have responded to the influence of the Internet. And while a squiggled scanner image of an old darkroom clock by Sara Cwynar and a livestream video decorated with clip art by Petra Cortright admirably scratch the surface of some of these issues, these two don’t provide nearly enough heft to wrestle with all the complex facets of the digital revolution. This repeated flimsiness on photography’s recent past remains a major weakness in this flow, one that needs to be improved.

The good news is that any sense of frustration or disappointment with this part of the art historical arc is quickly washed away by the undeniable gut-punching presence of an entire room deservedly devoted to Carrie Mae Weems’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried. Weems’s masterpiece is certainly one of the most important photographic works of the 1990s, and its power seems to grow with each passing decade. Bookended by the regal profiles of a Mangbetu woman, various prints of Black people (including several of the now-infamous Zealy daguerreotypes of half-naked slaves) have been isolated, enlarged, tinted blood red, and overlaid with biting snippets of text, creating a wrenching parade of prejudices, stereotypes, roles, and systematic exploitation. The emotional intensity of this piece is so high that it almost requires its own contemplative space, and MoMA has rightfully given it the prestige it deserves – for those visitors that don’t know it already, it will likely leave them speechless.

Weems is an extremely tough act to follow, but Cao Fei holds her own admirably with her 2006 video Whose Utopia. Filmed in a massive light fixture factory in China, its three parts create a layered portrait of the lives of workers. In the first part, the mind numbing drudgery of working on (or in) various assembly lines, quality check test areas, and packaging stations is given a sense of machined abstraction, the human workers reduced to anonymous cogs in the massive mechanism. The second part reverses this soul-crushing impression with fairy-tale like dances, guitar solos, and other expressive artistic performances that are staged right in among the working factory, creating an incongruous juxtaposition of faceless work and personal expression. And the final section is a series of images of the young workers as they quietly stare into the camera, each filled with a surprising degree of hope and perseverance. The video touchingly ends with the phrase “my future is not a dream”, offering a hint of the stubborn optimism that seems to fuel these young people. Sadly, not enough visitors at the end of a long string of rooms will likely sit through the entire 20 minutes of this video to allow its three parts to be woven together, thereby missing the sensitive nuance Cao has applied to the subject of 21st century Chinese factory work.

If we do a simplistic photographic tally of what was added versus what was removed in the Fall Reveal, I think it is safe to say that it represents a net positive move in the right direction. While there are still plenty of blank spots and missing pieces in this overall photographic narrative, adding back Modernism, Gordon Parks, and Carrie Mae Weems is certainly a win. What the Fall Reveal also seems to signal is that photographic ideas, themes, and connections will going forward never stretch larger than one room – the insights will always be bite sized, and set within the larger river of art. This inevitably prevents following some of the more sweeping, slow developing, and out of favor trends in the medium, simply because they don’t easily fit into this physical scheme and must brutally compete with other departments for precious wall space. But figuring out how to tell the sprawling story of modern and contemporary art was never going to be easy, and being forced to innovate within well-defined constraints may be just the kind of catalyst the curators need to fundamentally rethink how the evolving story can constantly be reimagined.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show drawn from the permanent collection, there are of course no posted prices. And given the broad range of artists and photographers included, we will forego our usual discussion of individual gallery representation relationships and secondary market histories.

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Read more about: Aenne Biermann, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Alphonse Bertillon, André Kertész, Andy Warhol, August Sander, Berenice Abbott, Bill Brandt, Boris Mikhailov, Brassaï (Gyula Halász), Bruce Nauman, Cao Fei, Carolee Schneemann, Carrie Mae Weems, Danny Lyon, Doris Ulmann, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Elisabeth Hase, Eugène Atget, Germaine Krull, Gordon Parks, Hannah Höch, Horatio Coppola, Ilse Bing, Imogen Cunningham, James Van Der Zee, László Moholy-Nagy, Leonard Freed, Liliana Porter, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Margaret Watkins, Michael Schmidt, Paul Outerbridge, Petra Cortright, Ralph Steiner, Ringl+Pit, Sanja Iveković, Sara Cwynar, Shomei Tomatsu, Sibylle Bergemann, Sue Williamson, Tina Modotti, Valie Export, Walker Evans, Wangechi Mutu, Weegee (Arthur Felig), Xanti Schawinsky, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

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