Greater New York @MoMA PS1

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing over 400 works by 158 artists/collectives, displayed over the three floors of the museum and the basement. The show was organized by Peter Eleey, Douglas Crimp, Thomas J. Lax, and Mia Locks.

The following photographers (and artists working in photography/video) have been included in the show, with the number of works on view, their processes and dates (where available) as background:

  • Park McArthur: 1 digital c-print, 2015
  • James Nares: 1 digital video from Super 8 transfer, 18 minutes, 1976
  • Alvin Baltrop: 30 gelatin silver prints, 1975-1986
  • Stewart Uoo: 1 archival pigment print with salvaged plywood and latex paint, 2015
  • Lorna Simpson: 1 serigraph on 6 felt panels, 1995
  • Donald Moffett: 5 cibachrome/archival color prints, 1997
  • Joy Episalla: 8 chromogenic prints mounted to Plexiglas in wood frames, 1998-2015
  • Rosalind Fox Solomon: 11 gelatin silver prints, 1976-2008
  • Gordon Matta-Clark: 3 color photographs, 1976
  • Deana Lawson: 2 inkjet prints mounted on sintra, 2011/2012, 32 appropriated photographs, 2013
  • Nick Relph: 9 cibachrome prints, 2015
  • Cameron Rowland: 1 photograph, 2015
  • Angie Keefer: 1 chromogenic print, 2013
  • Sondra Perry: 1 two channel video, 26 minutes, 2015
  • Sara Cwynar: 2 chromogenic prints mounted to Plexiglas, 2014, 1 set of 12 chromogenic prints, 2013
  • Jimmy DeSana: 9 c-prints/gelatin silver prints, 1977-1982
  • Collier Schorr: 7 pigment prints, 2015
  • Henry Flynt: 57 color photographs, 1979
  • Lutz Bacher: 1 print on vinyl, 2015
  • Louise Lawler: 1 adhesive wall print, 2004-2005/2015
  • Eckhaus Latta: 1 digital print on polyester, 2015
  • Mary Beth Edelson: 1 unknown print type, 1973
  • Roy Colmer: 1 set of gelatin silver prints, 1975-1976
  • Katherine Hubbard: 4 gelatin silver prints, 2015

(Installation shots of the photography below.)

Comments/Context: If the photography included in this year’s Greater New York exhibit at MoMA PS1 is any representation of the larger mood of the city at this particular moment, we seem to have slipped down into a lethargic funk that mixes lingering dissatisfaction with the present and misplaced nostalgia for the past. In the previous iterations of this once-every-five-years broad survey of art making in urban New York, the emphasis has always been placed on the effervescence of the young and the new, capturing the vibrant spirit of risk-taking and experimentation that runs through the veins of this city. But this show is markedly different in tone, interleaving some fresh work with frequent interludes that look back to the 1970s and 1980s, either as inspiration or as time-shifted reverberations of themes that continue to resonate today. It seems to be saying that the city’s artists are both dissatisfied and searching the past rather than the future for answers, which offers a remarkably dim view of our local art scene.

While the pitting of old versus new is a false battle, there is so much older photography included in this show that it is hard not to see the construct of the exhibit as a purposeful then and now dichotomy. But do we really believe that gay cruising on the falling down and dangerous West side piers (so gracefully captured by Alvin Baltrop) or the AIDS crisis (as seen in the optimistic blue sky views of Donald Moffett) were really the “good old days”? Roy Colmer’s systematic documentation of every door on block after block of the city seems to be an apt metaphor for this thinking – just open any door to the past to find a clue to the present. And so we are shown the radiant lines of Mary Beth Edelson’s early feminist empowerment, the performative energy of Jimmy DeSana’s underground nudes, Henry Flynt’s catalog of wry SAMO graffiti, Rosalind Fox Solomon’s edgy street portraits, and Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1970s cut throughs of the PS1 building itself, each a touchstone for ideas that are being recycled now. While Lorna Simpson’s empty fire escape obliquely refers to the recent presence of some sweaty sexual heat, James Nares’ vertiginous TriBeCa view might be a better metaphor for what needs to happen – let a swinging pendulum demolish the backward looking nostalgia like a wrecking ball.

The newer photography on view in Greater New York is a decidedly mixed bag, as though the curators weren’t entirely following what’s actually happening on the front edge of the medium. Disaffection comes through in multiple forms: with labor practices (Cameron Rowland), with real estate prices (Angie Keefer), and with the continual churn of new construction (the hybrid development poster montages of Nick Relph). The best new photography in the show is Deana Lawson’s poignant array of appropriated family portraits taken in a local correctional facility – they smartly press on the harsh interplay of domesticity and imprisonment. Other new ideas being explored in the medium are lightly sprinkled here and there – flexible printing on unexpected substrates (vinyl for Lutz Bacher, a polyester shirt for Eckhaus Latta, a wood plank backing for Stewart Uoo), reusing the windowing interface of software as a compositional tool (in a video by Sondra Perry), and rephotography and recycling of imagery (in the works of Sara Cwynar, many of which had been shown at Foxy Production in 2014) – but the selections don’t offer a comprehensive window into what’s important in photography right now.

Maybe we are experiencing a period of weary pessimism in the New York art world, but this exhibit is so rooted in the past (regardless of the generally solid quality of the older work on view) that we fail to be energized by what’s exciting about the present. We certainly need our artists to provide active and engaged criticism of the societal flaws and injustices they see around them. But strictly from a photography perspective, this show misses big chunks of new work that might have provided some balance to the pervading nostalgia. Looking back with rose-colored glasses won’t provide answers to our most pressing problems, and this show misses the mark by concentrating too much attention on rediscovering and reintegrating decades-old perspectives.

Collector’s POV: Given this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices, and with so many artists/photographers included, our usual discussion of gallery relationships and secondary market histories becomes unmanageable, so we have omitted this portion of the analysis for this specific review.

Read more about: Alvin Baltrop, Angie Keefer, Cameron Rowland, Collier Schorr, Deana Lawson, Donald Moffett, Eckhaus Latta, Gordon Matta-Clark, Henry Flynt, James Nares, Jimmy DeSana, Joy Episalla, Katherine Hubbard, Lorna Simpson, Louise Lawler, Lutz Bacher, Mary Beth Edelson, Nick Relph, Park McArthur, Rosalind Fox Solomon, Roy Colmer, Sara Cwynar, Sondra Perry, Stewart Uoo, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

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