Nothing New Under the Sun?


General Photography

Abigail Simon is not so impressed by MoMA’s New Photography show: “A visit to the current edition of the annual New Photography series at the Museum of Modern Art leaves one with a peculiar sensation, as if one has spent lunch period sitting with the mean girls. The show is pleasant enough, and could not be clearer in its intentions (unless of course a photograph of the word REPRESENTATION spelled out in neon lights had been torn up and strewn around the floor). There are pretty colors and pretty girls, sky-high production values, and ‘insider’ jokes broad as any sitcom. What was not evident was any sense of newness, much less freshness”. (more)

I suppose what we have to separate is the title of the show from its contents, because the former obviously is designed to lure in visitors (something like “Photography for museum curators” seems more precise, but it’s easy to see how that wouldn’t be such an attractive title). So when I visit a show called “New Photography” I don’t literally expect to see new photography (whatever that might be in the day and age of the internet where, it seems, everything already has been done), just like a sign “World’s best coffee” at a NY deli does not make me think that that’s really the place where the world’s best coffee is served.

What I do expect to see at MoMA, though, is a compelling, challenging show, and I couldn’t agree more with Abigail on that one: “Pretty enough, but why in a Museum - THIS museum?” And that seems to be the crux here. For a while, I thought it was just me. I thought I was just not getting it. But then I talked to various people, and I realized I wasn’t the only person having problems with this show (I don’t want to be unfair here, last year’s wasn’t any better).

Maybe I simply have to take the show for what it is. Maybe that’s it. But somehow that “THIS museum” is stuck in my head, the fact that contemporary photography used to be defined or re-defined there (anyone remember John Szarkowski?). Of course, you can’t define or re-define photography all the time, just like you can’t stage a show that actually has “new photography” (if you want a show that has newness and freshness do “Fresh Bagels” and make ‘em right on the spot). But “pretty enough” simply doesn’t seem to be good enough.