First Doubt: Optical Confusion in Modern Photography @Yale

JTF (just the facts): 114 images (mostly black & white), exhibited throughout the 4th floor galleries, all from the collection of Allan Chasanoff, either from the Yale collection or on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Curated by Joshua Chuang. (Unfortunately, no photography was allowed in the galleries and there are no thumbnails available on the website; image of exhibit monograph at right.)

Comments/Context: If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that as collectors ourselves, we are extremely interested in the process of photography collecting and how other collectors have taken on the task of building their own collections. It was therefore with some excitement that we made our way up to New Haven to see this show of the collection of Allan Chasanoff.

Let’s start with a simple summary: this is the most intriguing collection show we have seen in quite a long time. Chasanoff’s collection is made up of a wide variety of images and subject matter, all with a common theme: that somewhere in the image a visual dislocation is taking place. As a thematic construct, it’s endlessly quirky and interesting. There are puzzles and juxtapositions, reflections and odd camera angles, distortions and paradoxes. With each and every striking picture, effort is required to figure out “what is going on”.

We very much like the structural concept of this collection. It’s not a “greatest hits” collection, nor a deep study of one master. There are plenty of unknown artists here. In fact, it is a carefully constructed group of images that highlight the optical trickery that can happen in photography. It is the image that matters, not who made it, or whether anyone else thought it was important. The show is consistently surprising and visually stimulating as you move from image to image.

On top of this tremendous collection is layered an unusual curatorial device: rehang the show a handful of times during the exhibition, and let various groups of people from the community do the choosing. Two “image stables” have been created at each end of the gallery, holding 20 or so pictures each. Images can be easily taken from the image stable and moved into the main gallery areas to interchange with something else. What happens is that the groups see different connections between specific works, and that the whole show gets thrown up into the air every few weeks. Given the nature of the work in this collection, this is an amazingly innovative and egalitarian idea, and one that matches the idea of risk taking that flows through all the pictures.

Collector’s POV: There were plenty of great images in this show that would add some spice to our collection, while still fitting into our general thematic plan. Here are a few:

  • Eliot Elisofon, Untitled, 1940s
  • Claude Cahun, Je donnerais ma vie, Jersey, 1936
  • Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975
  • Grant Mudford, The Pike, Long Beach, California, 1979
  • Kim Steele, Hoover I (Dam), 1979
  • Ralston Crawford, Cologne Ruins, 1951
  • Clarence John Laughlin, The Spell of the Shadow, No. 1, 1953
  • Robert Frank, Edge of Doom, 1950
  • Aaron Siskind, Acolman 2, 1955

Overall, we came away highly impressed with the strength of this eclectic collection, and of the thoughtful process required to build it over the years. You will be rewarded if you make the effort to go see this show.

Rating: ** (2 stars) VERY GOOD (rating system defined here)

First Doubt: Optical Confusion in Modern Photography
Through January 4th

Yale University Art Gallery
1111 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT 06520

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One comment

  1. Marc Feustel /

    I have just written a < HREF="" REL="nofollow">review<> of the catalogue for this show, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to the exhibition itself. I was particularly interested in the idea of making the hanging of the show flexible how this can create new resonances between images and get more people involved in the curatorial process.

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