JTF (just the facts): A large group show containing the work of 57 different artists/photographers, variously displayed in a series of 3 connected gallery spaces and the back stairwell. The exhibit was organized by Charlotte Cotton, with assistance from Pauline Vermare and Marina Chao.
The following artists/photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view, their processes and dates as background:
- Jon Rafman: 1 video, 7 minutes, 2014
- Natalie Bookchin: 3 videos, 7 minutes 10 seconds, 2009/2016
- Doug Rickard: 1 video, 10 minutes, 2012
- Martine Syms: 1 video/sequences, 10 minutes, 2014-2016
- Kurt Caviezel: 1 adhesive print, 2015
- Ann Hirsch: 1 sound installation, 9 minutes 32 seconds, 2013
- Andrew Hammerand: 1 slide show, 2 minutes 30 seconds, 2013
- Cindy Sherman: 1 gelatin silver print, 1979/1989
- Kim Kardashian: 1 video/book, 15 minutes, 2015
- Andy Warhol: 3 sets of 6 Polaroids, 1976, 1980, 1981
- Marisa Olson: 1 video, 9 minutes, 2005
- Creations (real time queries, curated by Mark Ghuneim and others)
- Ann Hirsch: 1 video, 14 minutes, 2010
- Ron Galella: 1 gelatin silver print, 1971
- Celebrity Leaderboard (real time queries)
- Patrick McMullan: 1 chromogenic print, 2016
- Unidentified: 1 adhesive print, 1922/later
- Unidentified: 24 gelatin silver prints, 1950s-1970s
- Marc Garanger: 4 gelatin silver prints, 1960/2016
- The “Other” (real time queries)
- Don McCullin: 12 chromogenic prints made from original gelatin silver prints, 1966/2016
- Mike Mandel/Chantal Zakari: 10 adhesive prints, 2015
- John Houck: 1 video, 10 minutes, 2015
- William Hennessy Jr.: 1 pastel on paper drawing, 2013
- Trevor Paglen: 1 chromogenic print, 2016
- Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: 7 gelatin silver prints, 2013
- Weegee: 1 adhesive print, 1942/2016
- Tiane Doan na Champassak: 2 adhesive prints, 2011
- Privacy (real time queries)
- Zach Blas: 1 vacuum-formed plastic, 2012, 1 video, 8 minutes 11 seconds, 2012
- Yuri Pattison: 1 video, 10 minutes 14 seconds, 2015
- Martha Rosler: 24 gelatin silver print diptychs with text, 1974-1975
- Jill Magid: 1 video, 18 minutes, 2004
- Sophie Calle: 12 gelatin silver prints with text, 1979-1980, 6 gelatin silver prints with text, 1979-1980
- Stefan Ruiz/Unidentified: 2 chromogenic prints, 2013
- Nancy Burson: 1 gelatin silver print, 1983/2016
- Yale Joel: 1 gelatin silver print, 1946
- Kate Cooper: 1 video, 4 minutes 28 seconds, 2014
- Lyle Ashton Harris: 1 mixed media collage, 2015
- Rashid Johnson: 1 chromogenic print, 2003
- Vik Muniz: 1 Cibachrome print, 2000
- Merry Alpern: 3 gelatin silver prints, 1994
- Shelly Silver: 1 video, 15 minutes, 2004
- Larry Clark: 5 gelatin silver prints, 1971/1980
- Hotness (real time queries)
- Unidentified: 10 Polaroids, 1970-1980
- Count Louis-Camille D’Olivier: 2 albumen prints (stereo), 1855-1858
- Kohei Yoshiyuki: 1 gelatin silver print, 1971
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: 1 gelatin silver print, 1934
- Jack Webb: 1 chromogenic print, 2011
- Garry Winogrand: 8 gelatin silver prints, 1975/1981
- Barbara DeGenevieve: 1 chromogenic print, 2004-2006
- Larry Sultan: 1 chromogenic print, 1998-2003/2016
- Morality Tales (real time queries)
- Nan Goldin: 1 Cibachrome print, 1981
- Gillian Wearing: 1 video, 25 minutes, 1994
- Laurel Nakadate: 7 chromogenic prints, 2011
- Amalia Ulman: 1 video, 14 minutes, 2015
- Transformation (real time queries)
- Noel Baker/Unidentified: 3 albumen silver carte-de-visites, c1860s
- 6 Transvestia magazines, 1962
- Wu Tsang: 1 video, 5 minutes, 2008
- Phil Collins: 1 35mm slide projection, 9 minutes 20 seconds, 2009
A special exhibition website can be found here. A display with a sampler of images from Mossless 4: Public/Private/Portrait (here), a special publication made in conjunction with the exhibit, is on view in the lobby.
(Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: For the past several years, the International Center of Photography has been going through an off-stage transformation, like a busy caterpillar wrapped up inside a cocoon. And with a glimpse of the much anticipated emerging butterfly now possible, the visible changes have been wide ranging – a new director, a new lead curator, and a new physical space on the Bowery, all contributing to a freshness in the air. But perhaps most importantly, the ICP has taken the time away from public view to quietly reinvent itself, and that ongoing evolution of its mission manifests itself in its inaugural exhibit Public, Private, Secret.
Once the fervent home to concerned photojournalism, the ICP had taken on a broader mandate over the past decade or two, tentatively extending its photographic interests into the realm of fine art, a place where it hasn’t always been comfortable and where the other major art museums in the city provide active competition. As evidenced by the language surrounding Public, Private, Secret, the new ICP has definitionally pivoted once again, opening its arms even wider this time, embracing all of photography and its ubiquitous new position in “visual culture”. While some might compellingly argue that given the polarized complexity of the world we live in, we have never been more in need of a tight focus on concerned photography, or that the endless wash of vernacular and smartphone photography (and video) might fall outside the high minded mission of the ICP, the center’s new attitude feels purposefully rooted in making democratic sense of digital media and the photographic Internet, with a conscious lean toward the exciting but uncertain future rather than the mundane educational past. As a conceptual differentiator, this approach smartly separates the ICP from the other local museums, but executing on this vision in a way that is compelling, sophisticated, and mindful of the history of the medium will be a formidable challenge – taking stock of the present as it happens is never easy.
Unfortunately, the ICP’s sparkling new space is a grumbling disappointment, at least architecturally – its spatial weaknesses are so glaring that they left me with a sense of head-shaking discouragement at the missed opportunity, and pessimistically wondering about the ongoing trouble these new rooms will now create. Hidden behind a single closed door (and a too-small one person ticket counter), the gallery spaces are claustrophobically low ceilinged and windowless. A relatively normal space on the first floor (poorly laid out for competing installations of video in this first show) leads through an odd transitional nook and down a comically narrow back stairway, an ugly concrete bottleneck that will undoubtedly become unworkable for crowds and those that have trouble with stairs. The main space on the lower level is larger, but again felt cramped compared to the expansiveness of the old ICP. It seems impossible that the museum could stage an exhibit the size and scale of the superlative 2012 apartheid show (reviewed here) in these new rooms, and these durable physical limitations will ultimately influence the kinds of shows that are to be organized on a going forward basis.
Back in the lobby, most of the attention goes to a forgettable café, and while Spaces Corners is an excellent curatorial partner for the bookshop, the space is so much smaller than the previous shop (hardly more than a closet), it will be impossible to feature as much photobook diversity and depth as before, a puzzling oversight at a time when interest in photobooks is rising. So while the staff will undoubtedly do their very best to make the most of these shiny new surroundings, I came away slump shouldered and disheartened by the underwhelming nature of the new facilities – perhaps my genuine optimistic hopes for the place were just way too high.
Public, Private, Secret is a planting-a-flag-on-the-moon first exhibit, a declarative statement that announces to the world that the new ICP is staking a claim on not just photography (its previous namesake) but on the tumult of visual culture more broadly defined. Opening the exhibit with an entire floor full of video boldly reinforces this frame-breaking change – for old school photography folks expecting framed prints on the walls, the darkened space is a definitive message that we’re not in Kansas anymore.
At its core, Public, Private, Secret is interested in examining how photography now operates inside a networked, social context, where picture making is necessarily intertwined with layered notions of malleable personal identity and where the once distinct realities of public and private have become more muddied. But of course, prior to roughly the mid-1990s, the concept of the connected Internet wasn’t inextricably embedded in photography, so the images included here from before that point (roughly a third of the show) tackle these “what is shown/shared?” questions with a slightly different set of underlying boundaries and concerns.
Actively (and knowingly) performing for the camera is where this study starts, so works by Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol feel like perfunctory baseline inclusions. The performances get more nuanced and unsettling when we bridge to Nan Goldin’s 1980s images of her downtown life or Gillian Wearing’s 1990s-era video where she dances alone in a shopping mall – real life, or its proxy, starts to intrude, influencing how the artists exert control over their personal presentation.
This kind of image control wasn’t available to those that were “caught” by photography – their performances were required, induced, or otherwise taken from them without their consent. Examples of this range from 1950s Mexican police mugshots and Weegee’s back-of-the-paddy-wagon flash-lit intrusions to Ron Galella’s paparazzi hunting of Jacqueline Onassis and Marc Garanger’s silently outraged Algerian women forced to unveil. An important variant of this kind of imagery wanders closer toward voyeurism, where the distinctions between watcher and watched are less clear. Here Garry Winogrand’s women drift between eyes that are both appreciative and leering, and more invasive (we might even call them “secret”) pictures by Kohei Yoshiyuki, Merry Alpern, and even Larry Clark provide viewers with titillating glimpses of things going on behind closed doors and in the park bushes that may or may not be performances of a kind themselves.
In a sense, these older photographs (and the ideas they represent) provide a primary foundation for the complexity of what comes later when imagery moves faster through networks. In recent times, performance has become so prevalent that we hardly even need call it that anymore – mannered behaviors and staged looks for the benefit of whoever might be watching thoroughly dominate reality television and have permeated many corners of photography just as completely. Kim Kardashian’s wrist-breaking photobook of selfies (seen here in video form) is the epitome of this relentless self-management via smartphone photography. Marisa Olson and Ann Hirsch turn this staging idea on its head, satirizing (or perhaps mocking) reality television tropes from the inside, while Laurel Nakadate plays it straighter, forcing herself to cry on film (or at least pretend to) for 365 days straight. Performance has in these contemporary examples become more layered and sophisticated, with conscious awareness of its own facades and echoes now part of the package.
When we return to the “caught” theme, the single frame mugshots seen earlier now seem quaint when placed alongside the nearly ubiquitous presence of surveillance (both video and cyber), and this new normal is deconstructed in a variety of technology-centric works that consider both the impact of and the reaction to facial recognition software and other privacy invading tools. Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have built a August Sander-like taxonomy of faces using Russian software designed to capture faces at demonstrations and protests, while Zach Blas has worked to frustrate such technologies with a pink blob mask that protects its wearer from being identified. Other works are less literal, thinking artistically about the extensions and implications of these new technical powers. John Houck applies home-made facial recognition software to scenes from Antonioni’s classic photography-inspired film Blow-Up, finding what look like (but aren’t) faces in tree branches, grassy meadows, and fence posts, the software struggling to discover meaning where it isn’t. And Trevor Paglen twists the impact of technology question differently, starting with a pastel sketch from a courtroom (a place where photography is still forbidden) and making an intensely detailed close-up image that reduces the information to a wash of gestural color, the nested dolls of image and information abstraction taken all the way down to the tactile fiber of the paper.
One of the most thoughtful pairings in the show comes at the very beginning, before we really grasp the larger thesis of the exhibit. It matches videos from Jon Rafman and Natalie Bookchin on opposing walls, and while the soundtracks of the two step on each other in a distracting way, their messages are smartly interlocked. Rafman’s video is a menu of Internet fetish and deviance, from a disturbing clip of the deliberate crushing of a live crustacean and snippets of a wiggling hog-tied person in a plush green frog suit to a rattling washing machine that ultimately destroys itself and a man who smashes a watermelon between his thick thighs. In Rafman’s probing of the human psyche, the seductive and repulsive are interchangeable, the definitions of inspired and demented just two sides of the same coin. On the opposite wall, Bookchin inverts the idea that the Internet is home to an infinite diversity of personal quirks by showing that it isn’t, with synchronized clips of confessional videos where the exact same words are spoken by people of all types. Whether these subjects have been laid off, or are taking medications, or are trying to assert that they are (or are not) gay, they are all the same, regardless of whether they earnestly think they are not. Seen together, the two videos give us divergence and commonality placed hand in hand.
This exhibit tries very hard to mimic the feeing of the ever-changing photographic world we live in, but many of these efforts feel more like gimmicks and showmanship more than rigorous thought. The works on view are not organized chronologically or even thematically (except for immediate neighbors on the wall) but are arranged like a loose network, where connections shoot off in multiple directions. While this multi-tasking mindset might approximate our new reality, it makes for an exhibit that feels wandering and rudderless, without a clear thought line or argument to follow, especially when it strays away from what we have typically defined as photography. Interspersed among the various artworks are video screens that have been programmed to scrape the Internet and return images based on certain search parameters, and these attempts at real-time engagement fail to deliver anything of durable interest. These superficial updates on “hotness”, “privacy”, “transformation”, and other inane topics only reinforce that much of what is on view here is readily consumable but easily forgotten. Similarly, while ostensibly a reflection of the “everyone on display” aspect of contemporary photography, the relentless mirrored walls and backdrops in this exhibit and the flashing video lights from the preponderance of moving imagery make this show feel like a Japanese pachinko parlor. While the mirrors do make the rooms look bigger (which is needed), they introduce a level of cacophonous distraction that makes the show more of an “experience” than a reasoned argument.
In the end, the grand re-opening of the ICP is without a doubt a moment to be celebrated. More than ever, we need a thoughtful public institution paying close attention to the fast moving water of photography and the ICP has volunteered to be that institutional leader – the approach it has taken to Public, Private, Secret signals that it is committed to taking risks and pushing itself to be relevant. But the reemergence of the ICP also comes with a tempering set of mixed emotions, generated by the underwhelming nature of the new facilities and the questionable decision making on view in the first show. For the moment, let’s chalk these up to experimental learning and growing pains, and give the ICP the benefit of the doubt that it can keep learning and evolving in a positive direction. New York should be truly excited to have the new-and-improved ICP back in the mix, even if it is still a work in progress.
Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum exhibit, there are of course no posted prices, and given the diversity of work on view in this large group show, we will forego our usual discussion of gallery representation and secondary market histories.