Thursday, July 24, 2008

Embarrassment at the Met

It’s an embarrassment of riches for photography at The Metropolitan Museum right now - two amazing shows and a scattering of riches as you walk along the hallway of the Prints & Drawings galleries. (There’s always an interesting selection of works from the collection here – a visual diversion or appetizer for what’s to follow.)

First up you are met with a large close-up of Pierre-Louis Pierson’s peek-a-boo portrait of the Contessa Castiglione – the perfect precursor for the contemporary show to follow. Ovcr a period of six or so years in the late 1860s, Pierson and the Countess produced more than 700 images of her. In a shocking reversal of convention, however, it was the sitter who directed every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as just a tool in her obsessive pursuit of self-expression.

A few steps further takes you into the new Tisch gallery for contemporary photography and “Photography on Photography: Reflections on the Medium since 1960”. This exhibition – only the second to display the Met’s new-found interest in contemporary work – presents four decades of photography by artists who have turned the camera on the medium itself. Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, and a
host of lesser known names make for a interesting meditation on appropriation, authorship, and conceptualism. The show’s signature image, made by British photographer Janice Guy in 1979 is a slick turn of the tables on the viewer’s preference for the nude female form.

Last but not least, stretching over half a dozen galleries, is “Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840 – 1940”. Aside from its clunky title, this exhibition tells the story of photography’s first 100 years through the work of 13 key photographers - Gustave Le Grey, Roger Fenton, Carleton Watkins, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Nadar, Édouard Baldus, Charles Marville, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Brassaï.
It’s a little like showing off as you pass by one master print after another of some of photography’s most iconic images – but hey, it’s the Met!

Janice Guy. Untitled. 1979

Sherrie Levine. After Walker Evans, 1,2,4,&7. 1981

Richard Prince. Detail from "Untitled" (three women with their heads cast down). 1980

Lutz Bacher. Detail from "Jackie & Me". 1989

Nadar. Nadar with his wife, Ernestine, in a Balloon. c. 1865

Roger Fenton. Reclining Odalisque. 1858

Gustave Le Gray. Cavalry Maneuvers, Camp de Chailons, 1857

Carleton Watkins. Cape Horn near Celilo. 1867

Julia Margaret Cameron. Sappho. 1865

Edouard Baldus. Group at the Chateau de la Faloise. 1857

Walker Evans. Room at Louisiana Plantation House. 1935

Brassai. Introduction at Suzy's. 1932-33

As I was walking away from the museum, there was an unusually talented caricaturist creating gentle watercolor likenesses. I didn’t
want to interrupt the work in progress but I did find out he’s only
there on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

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