Pictures, Revisited @Met

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of 26 artists, variously framed, and hung against white walls in a divided gallery space on the second floor of the museum.

The following artists have ben included in the exhibit:

  • Barbara Kruger: 1 gelatin silver print in artist’s frame, 1984
  • Sarah Charlesworth: 1 gelatin silver print with applied color gels, 1981
  • Lorna Simpson: 1 set of 9 waterless lithography on wool felt panels, 1995
  • Cindy Sherman: 1 gelatin silver print, 1978
  • Suzy Lake: 1 gelatin silver print (grid of 12 images), 1973/1996
  • Andrea Fraser: 4 screen print on posters, 1984
  • Annette Messager: 1 four panel work, made from gelatin silver prints and ink, graphite on paper, 1973
  • Leslie Hewitt: 1 chromogenic print in artist’s frame, 2019
  • Darrel Ellis: 1 gelatin silver print, 1990
  • Erica Baum: 1 inkjet print, 2012
  • Michael Clegg & Martin Guttman: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1982
  • David Lamelas: 7 gelatin silver prints, 1974
  • Christian Marclay: 3 collages of offset lithographs, c1989, 1995
  • Steve Wolfe: 1 oil, screenprint, modeling paste, paper, wood, and canvas board sculpture, 1999-2000
  • Louise Lawler: 1 vitrine with various announcement cards, matchbooks, and other printed materials, 1981-2004
  • Marcel Brodsky: 1 inkjet print with applied color, 1996
  • Sherrie Levine: 1 collage on paper, 1979
  • Adam McEwen: 1 chromogenic print, 2008
  • David Robbins: 1 set of 18 gelatin silver prints, 1986
  • Hank Willis Thomas: 1 chromogenic print, 1978/2006
  • Piotr Uklanski: 1 set of 41 chromogenic prints, 1999
  • Mike Kelley: 1 set of 3 chromogenic prints, offset lithograph, 1999
  • Jennifer and Kevin McCoy: 1 custom video playback installation with 277 compact discs, 2001
  • Richard Prince: 1 set of 4 gelatin silver prints and 1 button, 1999

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: The new realities imposed by the global pandemic have been particularly disruptive to large art museums. Designed to be places where large groups of people can gather to have shared experiences of art, the past few months have thrown most if not all of their operating assumptions up into the air. Hand sanitizer, one way traffic flows, and revamped ventilation systems are just the tip of the iceberg; lockdown closures, timed tickets, and reduced visitor traffic have inevitably led to major changes to the economics of these institutions, the reverberations rippling through to widespread staffing furloughs and layoffs and wholly revamped exhibition schedules. It’s clear that blockbuster exhibitions filled with loaned treasures from across the globe are indefinitely on hold.

For institutions like the Met, one part of the solution lies right at home. Vast permanent collections offer curators opportunities to put on credible in-house collection shows drawn entirely from their own holdings, generating flexible, low cost options to fill an ever shifting schedule. Pictures, Revisited is just such a show. Building on the broad foundation laid by its sprawling 2009 survey exhibition The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984, this show has much more modest ambitions – introduce us to a selection of contemporary photographers/artists who are employing media appropriation strategies of various kinds, and then connect them back to a sprinkling of historical works from the original period to provide opportunities for context and comparison.

The baseline here is constructed by mixing a handful works by some of the influential names from the 1970s and 1980s – Sherman, Lawler, Kruger, Charlesworth, Levine – with those from a group of somewhat less well known artists who experimented with different types of appropriation at that same time. The selections aren’t so much a primer on the key images and figures of the Pictures Generation as a survey of approaches, from physical appropriation and recontextualization of various media types to more conceptual appropriation of styles and aesthetics, including hijacking and rethinking the look of movie stills, actor headshots, print advertising, rock concert footage, and album cover photography.

When we jump to the relative present of the 1990s and early 2000s, what we find is that the art-making strategies of the Pictures Generation are as bitingly effective as ever, and that their reach has extended ever further. Christian Marclay’s manipulated album covers and Piotr Uklanski’s array of dashing movie star Nazis are the most direct artistic descendants of the original movement, as they recontextualize existing mass media in relatively straightforward but resonant ways. Erica Baum adds a physical twist to her reconsideration of yellowing paperback books, spreading the page edges out to allow us to peek inside to a vertically sliced image of Brigitte Bardot. And works by Hank Willis Thomas and Adam McEwen add contemporary digital manipulation and rework to the artistic arsenal, superimposing the face of Smokin’ Joe Frazier on an Aunt Jemima advertisement and building a fake New York Times obituary for Nicole Kidman, alternately highlighting the stereotypes of how black faces have been portrayed in advertising and the hypnotic draw of celebrity culture.

The show gets more intriguing when it turns to selections that show us how appropriation has been evolving. Darrel Ellis and Marcel Brodsky apply Pictures Generation-style appropriation approaches to their own personal archival imagery, turning family photos and annotated grade school portraits into objects with recalibrated resonance. Lorna Simpson and Leslie Hewitt bring physical objects into the appropriation game, reimagining James Van Der Zee’s portraits via black glass vases and stacking books, shells, and printed images into new combinations of association and allusion. And Jennifer McCoy and Kevin McCoy move beyond simple video clip editing to an exhaustive restructuring of moments from the 1970s TV program Starsky and Hutch, pulling out dozens of repeated patterns and categories of gunshots, sad music, dead bodies, yellow Volkswagens, and lurking, among many others. In all of these cases, contemporary artists have pushed appropriation in new directions, often applying its well-known powers to alternate subject matter.

The nugget of thought at the center of this show – where has photographic appropriation gone in the past thirty or forty years? – is a richly layered question that this humble show only skims across. Pictures, Revisited won’t be remembered as a landmark statement or an influential coalescing of ideas, but it certainly has enough interest to spark a few thought-provoking conversations. In this pandemic constrained world where a trip to a museum is more rare than it once was, that may be enough.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum exhibition, there are of course no posted prices, and given the group show structure, we will forego our usual discussion of individual gallery representation relationships and secondary market histories.

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Read more about: Adam McEwen, Andrea Fraser, Annette Messager, Barbara Kruger, Christian Marclay, Cindy Sherman, Darrel Ellis, David Lamelas, David Robbins, Erica Baum, Hank Willis Thomas, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Leslie Hewitt, Lorna Simpson, Louise Lawler, Marcelo Brodsky, Michael Clegg & Martin Guttmann, Mike Kelley, Piotr Uklański, Richard Prince, Sarah Charlesworth, Sherrie Levine, Steve Wolfe, Suzy Lake, Metropolitan Museum of Art

One comment

  1. Janet /

    Who was the curator on this?

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