Above photograph by the author. Depicts a still from one of the artworks.
Museum of Modern Art exhibition Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 showcases contemporary photography that directly or inadvertently addresses the question of what photography for artistic purposes is in our image-based, post-Internet reality. This show marks the 30th anniversary of the first “New Photography” series, which in 1985 served as a window into the image-making process of one-hundred different international photographers. In a similar vein, eighteen artists and one artist collective participated in Ocean of Images. The displayed works range from quirky to sinister to cerebral to tactile, and while not powerful in the same stirring way that serious fashion and landscape photography can be, they do communicate a sense of youthful exploration and exuberance, as if by experiencing the imagery the viewer is accompanying the photographer on his or her journey behind the lens.
Positive Ambiguity (beard, lecture, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence) is the video by artist collective DIS that opens the show, having been commissioned by MoMA specifically for such a purpose. This film examines the impact of watermarks on photography and cinema, and stars pop artist and drag queen personality Conchita Wurst. The video is composed of various theatrical stills on a continuous rotation. Boomerangs by the author.
A Poem in Repetition by Allen Ginsberg is an obscurantist triptych by Natalie Czech, in which the artist highlights specific words in Ginsberg’s poems that she finds relevant, while masking the majority of the text in a shroud of white. Czech juxtaposes the muted passages with silhouettes of a dancing man. The overall product has the polished finish of a magazine layout and the subtle coyness of a more involved and complex work.
Basim Magdy’s The Hollow Desire to Populate Imaginary Cities is a series of 30 chromogenic photographs, dyed with chemicals and printed on metallic paper. With their vibrant colors and eye-catching peculiarity, Magdy’s works immediately draw the viewer in and subconsciously invite him/her to ponder the artificiality of industrialization– Magdy tricks the viewer into engaging with her pieces individually and on a deeper level by utilizing rich, bold hues to create an animated, almost kaleidoscopic mosaic of imagery. Experienced Instagram users will know what I mean in saying that Magdy’s photographs have a sort of ‘Afterlight,’ acidic effect.
In Role Model Drei (“Role Model Three”), photographer Marina Pinsky considers the commerciality of modern life by placing her three-dimensional, double-sided reconstruction of contemporary public spaces made from industrial materials within the private, museum space. The image on the front of the structure depicts a child inside of a shop, peering at an artificial Christmas display, while on the back there appears to be a man sitting alone on a bench, seemingly waiting for a train to arrive. What I liked about Pinsky’s work is that it provokes conversation. Feel free to comment below on what you believe to be the intended message of this multi-media piece.
The Newsstand (Zine Culture) was a pop-up store and collective forum for artistic and cultural discussion that was created and operated by Lele Saveri out of a Brooklyn subway station 2013 and lasted through 2014. Labeled as ‘hipster’ by this New York magazine article, The Newsstand was reassembled for this exhibition, and various staff members from the original venture stop by every so often to discuss their involvement and show museum-goers around.
Ilit Azoulay‘s Shifting Degrees of Certainty is perhaps my favorite piece in Ocean of Images. Azoulay arranges cutouts of sites and objects (artifacts, curios, fragments of architecture) from several German cities and towns into an urban puzzle reminiscent of a DK Eyewitness Book about Ancient Egypt or what I imagine an EEG (a brain-mapping) would look like. Each ‘puzzle piece’ has its own story, gathered by Azoulay during her residency in Berlin and told to the viewer via audio guides (in German, Hebrew, and English) that explain the contextual significance of each individual segment. Azoulay’s work is essentially a visual archive of German cultural history, sharing with the viewer fragments of a larger narrative.
Also not pictured: Rasen Kaigan, Lieko Shiga’s study of daily life in Japan following the devastating 2012 tsunami, encompasses her dark and dramatic photographs (solely the inverted negatives) that document the disastrous outcome of the tsunami while remaining mythic and otherworldly. Thirdly, Yuki Kimuta’s Katsura is a three-dimensional installation, transforming photographs of a decrepit Imperial villa into reality by recreating the airy atmosphere of the site with the help of greenery and open-ended wire frames (see opening image of this post). Very much an experiential work, “correlating the relationship between past and present to the relationship between real and represented space.” Bauhaus Staircase by Katharina Gaenssler is also quite lovely.
Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 closes March 20th.