Museum of Modern Art — © Brian Rose
Way back when — the late 70s — I studied with Hans Haacke, the distinguished political/conceptual artist. Although I did not go in that direction as a photographer, it was an important experience for me, and I have believed ever sense, that art should be grounded in historical and political context, that it needs to interact dialectically with the world we live in. This process, to me, does not necessarily resolve the questions surrounding truth and beauty, but it exposes or illuminates the language — visual or textual — that we use when we talk about these ineffable things.
Does this make sense to you? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a little dangerous going down this road, especially a road so well-trodden and rutted as to be, perhaps, irrelevant.
In New Photography 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art we get to go down this and other well-worn paths concerning conceptual/polemical photography. Curator Roxana Marcoci asserts that “there has never been just one type of photography,” as if throwing down a gauntlet. Her show presents a group of photographers who “have redefined photography as a medium of experimentation and intellectual inquiry.” In this show it is not enough to focus attention on individual artists who are attempting to stake out some small scrap of new turf in an already expansive field. No, they must be doing something truly ground breaking, “creatively reassessing the meaning of image-makingtoday.”
Museum of Modern Art text panel
Please read the text panel above. It is, of course, not necessary or desirable to actually see the photographs. The meaning is in the text. Were one to encounter the above guinea pig portraits unburdened of their meaning, one might miss the “historical links to the slave trade,” and one might gaze in bafflement at the “ribbon, string, and Mylar” intended to animate the “deadpan expressions” of these furry rodents.
One might, in all likelihood, not care one way or another about any of these photographs, and move on to other, hopefully more trenchant, examples of social and aesthetic engagement. Say, for instance, the Walker Evans “American Photographs” upstairs in the museum, which still look pretty new 75 years after they were made.
I believe this is one of those moments characterized by the expression “jumping the shark.” In this case guinea pigs.