Critics’ Picks

Alec Soth, Bill, Sandusky, Ohio, 2012, ink-jet print, 44 1/4 × 57 1/4". Courtesy Sean Kelly.

Alec Soth, Bill, Sandusky, Ohio, 2012, ink-jet print, 44 1/4 × 57 1/4". Courtesy Sean Kelly.

Shanghai

Alec Soth

Shanghai Center of Photography 上海摄影艺术中心
No. 2555-1 Longteng Dadao
August 1–November 20, 2020

Alec Soth’s first solo exhibition in China has come at the lowest point, politically, in US-China relations in several decades. That “The Space Between Us” has proven to be immensely popular—crowds lined up in Shanghai’s searing summer heat to see it—is indicative less of local interest in Soth as an artist than of an intense fascination with the vision of America his work presents. Along with LaToya Ruby Frazier, Soth marks the twenty-first century continuation of the tradition established by the likes of Walker Evans, documenting the lives of those Americans destined to dwell in the lands deemed the “flyover states” by urban cynics—places that register as more authentically American from the perspective of the outsider.

The show functions as a sort of retrospective, examining facets of Soth’s career that are enmeshed in this story of middle America as well as those which fall outside of it, such as portraits of fellow artists and critics he has met in his travels throughout Europe and the United States, including a blurred portrait of New York City-based photography critic Vince Aletti. But it is ultimately his images of the loners and eccentrics of the Midwest and the tattered landscapes they belong to that remain embedded in the memory, for those who have never directly experienced these places, and for those of us who, for our various reasons, cannot go home.