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New Photography 2010

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

September 29, 2010 to January 10, 2011


Film has been included in a New Photography installation for the first time

"Despair, Film Still #1" by Alex Prager

"Despair, Film Still #1,"" by Alex Prager, 2010, chromogenic color print, 16 by 20 inches, courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery 2010 Alex Prager, from the 4 minute film "Despair" starring Bryce Dallas Howard. The film score is by Ali Helinwein

All photos by Michele Leight except as noted

By Michele Leight

This year's wunderkinds at The Museum of Modern Art's New Photograpy Series are Roe Ethridge, Elad Lassry, Alex Prager and Amanda Ross-Ho. These artists draw from the past, and from their own world, often simultaneously, and do not hesitate to mix professional assignments into their art work. For the first time two artists include film in their installations - the US debut of Alex Prager's "Despair," (2010) and Elad Lassry's "Untitled," (2009). Since it began in 1985, the New Photography series has introduced the work of over 70 artists from 16 countries. This showcase of recent work in contemporary photography is in its 25th year, and is sponsored by the Carl Jacobs Foundation. New Photography 2010 is organized by Rozana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography.  New Photography 2010 is sponsored by the Carl Jacobs Foundation.

"Desiree" by Alex Prager

"Desiree," by Alex Prager, from the series "The Big Valley," 2008, chromogenic color print, 36 by 48 1/2 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired through the generosity of the Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Linda and Gregory Fischbach, and William S. Susman and Emily Glasser 2010 Alex Prager, courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery

Alex Prager's (American, born 1979) 4-minute debut short film, "Despair," starring Bryce Dallas Howard, is set in 1960s Los Angeles. Photographic "stills" from the film are included in the show, like "Despair" illustrated at the top of this story. The film is based on the "The Red Shoes," (1948), a beautifully conceived film about a prima ballerina who is forced to choose between art (dance) and love. She cannot decide and her dilemma leads to her death. One of the scenes is filmed in the voyeuristic style Alfred Hitchcock used in "Rear Window." We see the heroine flitting back and forth agitatedly - from the outside looking in - through her apartment windows, recalling James Stewart watching his neighbors with a powerful zoom lens while convalescing with a broken leg. He was a photographer by profession. Prager re-imagines well known material from the past, and describes her 4 minute film as a "full sensory version" of her photographs.

Rear window

Scene from Alex Prager's short film "Despair"

Like "Desiree," shown above, from her 2008 series "The Big Valley," Prager's heroines are often dressed in synthetic wigs, slithery retro polyester dresses and dramatic make-up. Her signature edgy style includes photographing her subjects from strange angles. Re-working the stylish heroines of Hitchcock's masterpiece thrillers - Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint - Prager engages the viewers attention with carefully calibrated suspense. Another noticeable influence is melodrama, reminiscent of silent movies, where "over acting" via elaborate gestures and exaggerated facial expressions was necessary in the absence of dialogue. The stylized influence of fashion photography (Prager cites Guy Bourdin) is palpable. These charismatic yet unreal women have an unsettling allure, like Richard Prince's, "nurses" in masks, and other benignly menacing heroines of pulp fiction novels. "Crowd #1 (Stan Douglas)," (not illustrated), is one in a series shot for the November 2010 issue of "W," which borrows from Stan Douglas' "Hastings Park, 16 July, 1955" (2008), with everyone dressed in outfits from the 1970s. "Suzie and Friends," from Prager's series "The Big Valley," (not illustrated), features teenage girls in retro bikinis, creepy wigs and raunchy make-up drinking beer and smoking. They look like bored miniature adults. Alex Prager is self-taught.

Finale by Prager

Crowd watches Alex Prager's "Despair" in at MoMA

Elad Lassry (Israeli, born 1977), does not imitate Hitchcock but borrows - outright - an image of Anthony Perkins from one of his most famous films, and makes him the subject of his photograph.

"Portrait 1 (silver)" by Elad Lassry

"Portrait 1 (silver)," by Elad Lassry, 2009, gelatin silver print with applied silver foil, 10 1/4 by 8 1/4 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, Fund for the Twenty-First Century

In "Portrait 1 (silver)," illustrated above, the disturbing star of "Psycho" is re-cast, and floats at the top of the composition on a shiny piece of silver foil. The title simultaneously references the King of Pop's titles for his iconic series of celebrity portraits, the Gold Marilyn's (Monroe) and Silver Liz's in particular, where a small image of the superstar is similarly "inserted" into an expanse of painted gold canvas by Warhol.
"Textile (For Him and Her)" by Elad Lassry

"Textile (For Him and Her)," by Elad Lassry, 2009, gelatin silver print, 11 by 14 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century 2010 Elad Lassry, courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

The mundane title of the painting derives from the background color of the silkscreen: orange, gold, silver, etc. MoMA has one of the most famous "Gold Marilyn"s in it's permanent collection, currently on view in an installation called "On To Pop." However, Marilyn Monroe gazes out from a more central position on her large canvas, while Lassry's placement of Anthony Perkins leaves him in danger of falling out of the small space he occupies.

Elad Lassry film

Elad Lassry's film "Untitled" is "displayed" with his photographs

None of Lassry's photographs are larger than 11 1/2 by 14 inches - the size of a generously proportioned magazine. A film student at CalArts who then earned his MFA at The University of Southern California, Lassry's visual vocabulary is culled from archival film and vintage magazines. As a flimmaker well versed in building stories with images - which he does well - Lassry sets them within frames that match the dominant color of his photographs, "objectifying" them as Jasper Johns celebrated the "object-hood" of his now iconic flag paintings, by continuing the painting over the sides of the canvas. Lassry's "layering" of mediums and motifs becomes extremely sophisticated in works like "Wall" (2008) (not illustrated), and "Textile (For Him and Her)," (2009), illustrated above.

If he occasionally gets bored with the static properties of photography, Lassry substitutes 16 mm film projections - not an unusual urge for a filmmaker. "Untitled," (2009), features Eric Stoltz as a choreographer teaching steps to a dancer dressed in red, which heightens the tension between stillness within the moving image and the impermanence of the static image.

"Old Fruit" by Roe Eldridge

"Old Fruit," by Roe Ethridge, (American, born 1969), 2010, chromogenic color print, 50 by 40 inches, courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, photo by MoMA

Roe Ethridge's (American, born 1969), moldy "Old Fruit" (2010) defies the perfect fruit specimens in glossy advertisements, or the meticulously contrived still lives of the great artists of the past, when painting a bowl of fruit was important (illustrated above). An innocent little pumpkin sticker is photographed close-up, then supersized, and suddenly it does not look so benign; a Chanel advertisement in the New York Times is transposed just as it is, and given special treatment as an "art" photograph. 

"Debora Muller with Tripod" by Roe Ethridge

"Debora Muller with Tripod," by Roe Ethridge, 2008, chromogenic color print, 43 by 33 inches, private collection, photo by MoMA

A beautiful, Vermeer-esque model, "Debora Muller with Tripod," (illustrated), is wearing an Alexander McQueen shirt, and poses with a tripod, not in front of it. Her hand blocks her mouth, which traditionally would not happen in a formal portrait, or fashion photograph. Showing the entire face would be mandatory.

Works by Roe Ethridge

Installation of Roe Etheridge's Photographs at MoMA

Inconsistency, and turning photographic and artistic convention on its head, is carefully calibrated in Roe Ethridges' work. So is the studied way in which his compositions are reshuffled, sequenced and laid out. "Commes des Garcons Scarf with Glass Plate," (2010), is exactly what it says it is, but the plate is from Bed, Bath and Beyond's website. Any and all sources of material, including those currently in cirulation and "out-takes" from his commercial work, are worthy contenders in his strangely soothing "visual fugues." The portrait is outstanding.
"Untitled Detail (Atmosphere)" by Amanda Ross-Ho

"Untitled Detail (Atmosphere)," by Amanda Ross-Ho, American, born 1975, 2007, chromogenic color print, with wooden shelf, 28 by 28 by 4 inches, collection Drew Katz.

Amanda Ross Ho, (American, born 1975), mixes more media in her work than any of the other photographer/artists in this show. The Joseph Cornell-like assemblage "Untitled Detail (Atmosphere)," (2007), shown above, includes a color print featuring the earth, tapes, brush, and other professional paraphernalia pinned on a perforated backdrop, (a recurring theme for the artist), and a discarded pile of rolled up paper, and tapes - the detritis - used in its creation. The winsome photo-installation rests on a wooden shelf like an ordinary object. It is not "hung" like an important photograph in a museum or on a gallery wall. Similarly, "Expose for the Shadows, Develop for the Highlights (Perforated Sampler): White Light, Crewel Point, Triangle 208.33%, Glasses (His), Portrait (Hers)," rests casually at an angle against the wall and is not hung at all. This collage/installation includes found images scanned from craft manuals and photography textbooks - prosaic, useful, not artistic - but gets more personal with the insertion of a beautiful gelatin silver print taken by her mother in the 1970s, and a reprint from a large color transparency of a slick professional photograph of drinking glasses taken by her father during his work as a commercial photographer.

"Expose for the Shadows, Develop for the Highlights (Perforated Sampler)" by Amanda Ross-Ho

"Expose for the Shadows, Develop for the Highlights (Perforated Sampler) [installation view]," by Amanda Ross-Ho, 2010, Hand drilled sheetrock, wood, latex paint, framed chromogenic color prints, CNC-cut acrylic, acrylic on canvas, aluminum hooks, 96 by 72 by 5 inches, courtesy the artist, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York and Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles 2010 Amanda Ross-Ho

Ross-Ho grew up in a family of professional photographers. She posed as a model for test shots taken by her father and uncle, and stood beside her mother when she worked in the darkroom when she was a child.The line between commerce and craft is not observed by this composer of thought provoking photographs, with original results. Her installations often include mural-scale inkjet prints of studio residues, hand-drilled Sheetrock panels proped against the wall that resemble architectural backdrops, and curious collages and assemblages - including images that have a familial significance.

Works by Amanda Ross-Ho

Amanda Ross-Ho Installation, with "Inside Job #2," (2010), that appears to float on the gallery wall at MoMA

It is impossible not to mention the legacy of artists like Rauschenberg, Johns and especially Andy Warhol that is so evident at this vibrant show, who were major players in Pop Art who shattered the perception of art as "high-brow" and ivory tower. They were not looking to re-create an elitist easel painting set apart on a wall like an object of adulation or devotion, to be worshipped in a museum or a robber baron's palazzo. No onc would have grasped the irony more that they that their painting sell for outlandish sums of money today. The idea of separating art from commerical graphic work, or photography from film is just as irrelevant to the photographers in this show. Some have helped themselves to images from the real world; others are posed in the studio, or borrowed from popular culture and the movies of the past. There is no taboo here about moving from the page of a magazine, a film clip or newspaper to the photograph.

New Photography 2010 is a thought-provoking fusion of influences and re-makes, each with a personal twist. The originality of material flagrantly "re-made" is an exciting demonstration of what can happen when new ideas make it through the barrage of stimuli flooding a world more packed with images and stimuli as has ever existed. It is a heady banquet of material for a new generation of photographers to feast on and create with.

The four photographers in this enjoyable show are so different. Each is inspired by the world around them while at the same time acknowledging their personal histories, and the creative geniuses of the past. It is wonderful to see a new generation tap into that rich heritage and legacy. It is the surest way of keeping it alive.

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