“PICTURE INDUSTRY,” curated by the artist Walead Beshty at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard, has quietly thrown down the gauntlet, not only for exhibitions that address the history of photography, but for all future surveys of twentieth-century art and political imagery broadly. The exhibition is unabashedly ambitious and pedagogical: Three hundred works by more than seventy individuals and collectives spread across seventeen galleries, with extensive wall labels culled from primary sources and the leading scholarship. But the show’s lessons can be found not in the texts so much as in the objects themselves. “Picture Industry” offers at least three essential insights for historians, curators, critics, and practitioners of modern art and media.
1. The long twentieth century, from which we are still emerging, was the cinematic century.
Ostensibly a presentation of photography from
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