JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 black and white and color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in a series of three connected rooms on the second floor of the museum. All of the works come from the collection of Emily Fisher Landau, and were made between 1980 and 2004. The exhibit also includes a camera obscura room. A catalog of the collection was published by Yale University Press in 2011 (here). There is no photography allowed in the galleries, so the installation shots at right are courtesy of the museum’s Flickr page.
The following artists/photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of works and print details as background:
- Richard Artschwager: 1 sculpture/photographs mounted on wood, 2002
- Matthew Barney: 1 chromogenic print in self-lubricating frame, 2002
- Keith Cottingham: 1 digital chromogenic print, 2004
- Lynn Davis: 1 gold-toned gelatin silver print, 2000/2002
- Philip-Lorca diCorcia: 1 chromogenic print mounted on Plexiglas, 2000
- John Dugdale: 1 hand-coated cyanotype, 1994
- Nan Goldin: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1994
- Rodney Graham: 1 chromogenic print, 1990
- Robert Longo: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1980/1998
- Vera Lutter: 1 gelatin silver print, 1996
- Robert Mapplethorpe: 1 gelatin silver print, 1988
- Abelardo Morell: 1 gelatin silver print, 2003
- Shirin Neshat: 3 silver dye bleach prints, 2002
- Victoria Sambunaris: 1 chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 2002
- Lorna Simpson: 2 gelatin silver prints in framed with plaque, 1991
- Kiki Smith, 4 chromogenic prints, 2000-2001
- Hiroshi Sugimoto: 1 gelatin silver print, 1994
Comments/Context: Back in 2010, long-time trustee Emily Fisher Landau made a major donation of 367 artworks to the Whitney Museum. Selections from that massive gift have toured around to many smaller museums in the United States in the past few years, and this particular show pulls out a very small subset, focusing on some of the photography to be found in the collection. If this group of works can be taken as any guide, Fisher Landau’s approach to contemporary photography has been to employ the “solid example from key figures” method, gathering an impressive list of important names and singular works. While the show is loosely organized into rooms of images with people, those without, and a handful of works related to the camera obscura room that has been installed as part of the exhibit, in essence, it’s really more of a parade of exemplary photographs from the 1990s and early 2000s.
If a collection is built without a rigid thematic or conceptual structure/system to connect the various artworks together (as most collections are), the only way to look at it critically is to ask, for each individual artist selection, “did the collector pick a superlative example of the artist’s work”? In general, I think there are some terrific choices on view here, many which would be considered among the best work done by that artist. There as an enormous, wall dominating, upside down tree by Rodney Graham, smartly flanked by a large Vera Lutter of the Fulton ferry landing with the Twin Towers in the distance. Other standout choices include the late Mapplethorpe self portrait (with skull head cane), the Sugimoto wax museum royal family, the Longo jerking suited man from Men in the Cities, and the Morell camera obscura image taken in the Whitney itself.
There are also a few less obvious selections which point to some inspired risk taking. Nan Goldin’s swarm of cherry blossoms in Tokyo isn’t exactly representative of her work, but is still quietly enchanting. Matthew Barney’s array of Chryslers from the Cremaster series lacks the bold originality of many of the scenes from that project, but is nonetheless subtly surreal. And Richard Artschwager’s child in a high chair sculpture wouldn’t necessarily be considered photography, except that its blocky form is constructed by straight on photographs from every angle, creating a smart multi-perspective portrait.
So while it’s hard to draw a line that connects all of the works on view here into a coherent whole, this small show certainly delivers a respectable mix of recent photography. I’m sure the larger Fisher Landau collection did plenty of welcome hole filling in the Whitney’s permanent collection (in photography and other mediums), and with the new building opening soon, I’m hoping we’ll slowly get a chance to see even more of its photographic treasures.
Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are, of course, no posted prices, and given the wide diversity of works on view, we will forego the usual discussion of secondary markets and price histories.