Ruptures and Continuities: Photography made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection
by Igor George Alexander
In the summer of 2003, on the day before the July 4th holiday, the Whitney Museum of American Art opened the exhibitionThe American Effect. Guest curator Lawrence Rinder devised a way to invert the Whitney's stated mission of displaying American art by organizing a show of foreign artists who had created works about the United States. Rinder enlisted the aid of a young Japanese-born, American-educated lawyer with first-hand knowledge of the Tokyo art scene to help him find works for the exhibition. The newly minted assistant curator, Yasufumi Nakamori, found a number of works for Rinder, including a 1996 painting on a folding screen by Makato Aida entitled A Picture of an Air Raid on New York City. In the image, a World War II aircraft with the Imperial Japanese Army insignia circles over Manhattan, its landmark buildings on fire. Less than two years after the destruction of the World Trade Center complex, the show certainly received attention. Even the normally anything goes ArtForum ran a review that found the exhibition disturbing enough to declare it "hectoring and jejune."
The theme of the 2010 FotoFest, the thirteenth biennial in the series, is contemporary U.S. photography. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which has mounted many major exhibitions in conjunction with FotoFest, is presenting Ruptures and Continuities: Photography Made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection, a major photography show of nearly two hundred works from the museum's world-renowned, permanent collection chosen by Assistant Curator of Photography, Yasufumi Nakamori, who came to work at the MFA in February, 2008. The show, as Nakamori envisions it, examines "...how...European and North American-based photography practices spread throughout the world over time."
Continuities between photography and the art of painting have existed since the medium's invention; the Victorian master Julia Cameron's works often reference the style of pre-Raphaelite painting. Pictorialists such as the early Edward Steichen took cues from Impressionist painting and Man Ray's images reflect his Surrealist ties and so on. The MFAH exhibition includes three "mini-retrospectives," in Nakamori's words, of American photographers Richard Misrach, William Eggleston and Lewis Baltz. In particular, Baltz took cues from Minimalism, most directly with his images, taken in 1974, of building facades around Orange County, California. In the exhibit, Ruptures are represented by those artists who took
photography into directions unique to the medium - Conceptualists such as John Baldessari, Sherri Levine and William Wegman, working within the "cultural prison break" that was the 1960s in the United States.
Overall, the exhibition includes works by over eighty artists working from the 1960s into the present in twenty different countries, divided into five themes: Self-Performance (think Cindy Sherman); Transformation of the City (Eggleston and the powerful Chinese newcomer Sze Tsung Leong stand out); Directorial Mode and Constructed Environments (David Levinthal and others); New Landscape (Misrach and Baltz) and Memory and Archive (notably, La Fete du Pourim by the French Conceptualist Christian Boltanski).
This exhibition, with its over-arching meta theme, promises to be thought-provoking, suggesting that Houstonians can expect more fine work in the future from Nakamori.
Ruptures and Continuities: Photography made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection will be on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from February 21 through May 9, 2010.