Monday, May 25, 2009

Report from the Met

We went to the Met on the holiday Monday, and saw three photography shows:

The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984

Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard

The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion

All three seemed to me on the shallow side. It's my opinion that none of these shows know when to stop, really.

Model as Muse would have been fine with just the photos and the clothes. More than fine.

Instead, its credibility is destroyed by an overlay of crap culture. An ill-considered and immature "era" approach is taken in which fake graffiti, bad pop songs and off-base cultural references distract us from the content so that we won't discover there's no material here that actually addresses the basic conceit of the show.

You can't present fantastic taste -- which is what fashion photography is, in the end -- underneath a frame that seems like an underinformed 19-year-old trying to encapsulate past decades. Using the unsophisticated idea of "the 1950s was this, then the 1960s was this, then..." is bad enough, but trying to then flesh that out with the weakest and least cool cultural touchstones reduces the show to a touristy, bland blanket, smothering fantastic images and clothes.

This is not a case of the Emperor wearing nothing. Rather, the Emperor turns out to be wearing a poncho, and hoping we'll say it's very nice.

It was, however, fun to see a connection to William Klein's Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? integrated into the show in the one room that worked. I just wished they'd paid more attention to what Klein was satirizing.

I enjoyed Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective much, much more.

Above: an iPhone snapshot at the Met today.


Chris said...

Very interesting to read your take on it especially considering your past experience as a curator. Thanks for sharing.

Ted Fisher said...

Thanks, Chris. I think people should go and see this show, but I leave thinking I would have spent more time with the images if the show hadn't put so much energy into whispering lame ideas in my ear.

They may be surprised to find that I have seen graffiti before, and have heard of both Nirvana and George Michael. Now perhaps they should make clearer the artist-model relationship, which is a valuable theme in art, and how they see it in these photos.

I re-watched "Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy of Edward Weston and Charis Wilson" the other day, and that film did a great job of addressing this theme. So I had hoped this exhibition would....