PRINT December 2014

Vince Aletti

Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, California, 1969, gelatin silver print, 16 × 20". © The Estate of Garry Winogrand. Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

1 GARRY WINOGRAND (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY LEO RUBINFIEN WITH ERIN O’TOOLE, SARAH GREENOUGH, AND JEFF L. ROSENHEIM) Most black-and-white street photography since the 1960s looks like Winogrand’s work: anxious, hectic, spontaneous as a snapshot, and open-ended yet somehow resolved. So his accomplishment and his influence were givens, but it wasn’t until this show that I realized how much I took the work for granted. Though hardly radical or revisionist, Rubinfien’s selection (including new images from the photographer’s archive) made me look again. Winogrand is still too much—insanely prolific, scattershot, easily distracted—but at a time when photographers seem more interested in academic abstractions than in the world around them, his appetite is inspiring. And daunting.

Co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

2 “MACHO MAN, TELL IT TO MY HEART: COLLECTED BY JULIE AULT” (ARTISTS SPACE, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JULIE AULT, MARTIN BECK, RICHARD BIRKETT, NIKOLA DIETRICH, STEFAN KALMÁR, JASON SIMON, SCOTT CAMERON WEAVER, HEINZ PETER KNES, AND DANH VO) Ever since her days with Group Material, I’ve admired Ault for her unconventional installation style, which established a savvy, engaging visual language for the heated dialogue between art and activism that pervaded the 1980s. Revived here for a sprawling, two-venue show of work from Ault’s own collection, that style proved as protean as ever but also far more personal, now including photographs, paintings, drawings, sculpture, posters, and videos that traced an intricate web of connections from Andres Serrano to Martin Wong, Roni Horn to Sister Corita. The result, arranged as if for a supersize magazine layout, felt at once casual and flawless, brainy and unselfconsciously beautiful. I wanted to move in.

Versions of this exhibition were exhibited as “Tell It to My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault” at Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel and at Cultrgest, Lisbon.

3 THOMAS DEMAND (MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY, NEW YORK) The settings referenced by Demand’s photographed constructions—Pollock’s studio, the Oval Office—give the work a historic heft that can sometimes weigh it down. Freed of any backstory (save the fact that they’re based on his own cell-phone snapshots), his “Dailies” feel not just lighter and looser but more immediate. Like so many photographers these days, Demand is looking at the incidental, the insignificant, and the everyday: plastic cups stuck in a chain-link fence, thumbtacks on a bulletin board, a sponge at the edge of a sink. Luigi Ghirri’s brilliant work in this vein was in the same space last year. Demand followed it with a quiet, witty tour de force.

4 COLLIER SCHORR (303 GALLERY AND KARMA, NEW YORK) For years, Schorr has photographed male subjects—wrestlers, soldiers, race-car drivers—exploring issues of gender and power. With “8 Women,” an exhibition and a book, she switched her focus, and her interest in the blurred lines between masculinity and femininity is even more explicit. Some great work for fashion magazines helped smooth Schorr’s transition, and she incorporated it here. There is a boldness and a confidence to these new pictures, especially apparent in the expanded “bootleg” version published by Karma and exhibited briefly in their space, which allowed her to dive even deeper into the obsessive side of desire.

5 “A WORLD OF ITS OWN: PHOTOGRAPHIC PRACTICES IN THE STUDIO” (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY QUENTIN BAJAC) Bajac, who was named the chief curator of photography at MoMA in 2012, made his first impact this year with this revelatory rehanging of his department’s permanent-collection galleries. Defining studio practice in the broadest terms allowed him to include a wide range of still life, portraiture, fashion, darkroom-based abstraction, fabricated sets, and video—from Man Ray to William Wegman—while avoiding the street and landscape work that the museum had long championed. Bajac’s fresh take was sensitively hung and peppered with surprises, introducing a sensibility that’s sophisticated, idiosyncratic, and remarkably international.

Collier Schorr, Boots, Chair, Hair, 1998–2014, gelatin silver print, 60 × 45 3/4".

6 “JOHN DEAKIN AND THE LURE OF SOHO” (PHOTOGRAPHERS’ GALLERY, LONDON; CURATED BY ROBIN MUIR) Famously ornery if not downright impossible, Deakin was the photographer who supplied the intimate, intense portraits and figure studies, many of mutual friends, that Francis Bacon tortured into paintings. Most of those photographs ended up in the paint-splattered debris on the floor of Bacon’s studio; others were discovered in the dust under Deakin’s bed after he died, at sixty, in 1972. Their tattered state only adds to the pictures’ relic-like quality, but the work itself is extraordinary—at once bitingly incisive and fond—and surprisingly elegant. Muir brought a choice group together for this compact exhibition, focusing on Deakin’s bohemian circle and a few notable visitors, including Lucian Freud, Eduardo Paolozzi, Dylan Thomas, and a character rumored to be Bacon in drag.

7 “WHAT IS A PHOTOGRAPH?” (INTERNATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY, NEW YORK; CURATED BY CAROL SQUIERS) Posing the question of the moment—if not the decade—Squiers’s show was squarely in the middle of a conversation that was picked up in a slew of galleries this year. But ICP gave process-driven and digitally souped-up contemporary work some (short-term) historical perspective by hanging Sigmar Polke, Lucas Samaras, Floris Neusüss, and Gerhard Richter alongside Marco Breuer, Liz Deschenes, Eileen Quinlan, and Matthew Brandt. Although some of the work here looked undercooked and gimmicky, the best of these experiments in abstraction suggest that photography’s latest avant-garde can make its moment last.

8 ERWIN BLUMENFELD (JEU DE PAUME, PARIS; CURATED BY UTE ESKILDSEN) The photographer responsible for some of Vogue’s most arresting covers was a hard-core avant-gardist with a talent for knockout graphic design. This survey established him as one of the quirkiest geniuses at the busy intersection of art and commerce. Like Man Ray and Martin Munkácsi, Blumenfeld opened up fashion magazines to modernist experimentation. The exhibition gave equal weight to Blumenfeld’s work outside fashion, with a room of portraits and self-portraits that reflect the period’s somber and politically charged mood.

9 “A SENSE OF PLACE” (PIER 24 PHOTOGRAPHY, SAN FRANCISCO; CURATED BY CHRISTOPHER MCCALL) One of the most impressive new venues for photography—an enormous former warehouse space on the San Francisco waterfront—is also one of the most intelligently curated. Here, Pier 24 director McCall has mounted a series of terrific, creatively hung exhibitions: “A Sense of Place” took landscape as its jumping-off point. Full-room installations by Paul Graham, Lee Friedlander, Erik Kessels, and Stephen Shore alternated with dense arrangements of vintage prints—by Charles Marville, Ilse Bing, Leon Levinstein, Berenice Abbott—making the Pier’s rooms feel like a sequence of excellent shows, each illuminating the others.

10 BOYHOOD (RICHARD LINKLATER) Even before the boy turned into a budding photographer, bathed in the red light of a darkroom, I was smitten with Linklater’s sweet, sensitive Everykid. Watching Ellar Coltrane grow up was strangely thrilling, like watching one of those time-lapse clips where a caterpillar becomes a butterfly and flutters away. Only here we see the many ways in which a child can be damaged, healed, and survive it all. Nothing much happens, except, right before our eyes, a complete transformation.

Vince Aletti reviews photography exhibitions for the New Yorker and photography books for Photograph and Camera magazines. This year, he contributed essays to catalogues on Peter Hujar and Irving Penn and exhibited ephemera from his collection in “Fan the Flames: Queer Positions in Photography” at the Art Gallery of Ontario.