From the movie One Hour Photo: stalker/artist Robin Williams contemplates his family snapshots. Ten years of the Yorkin family, all palmed at the photomat where he works:
As I recall, Joe Bob Briggs called Tom Noonan in Manhunter "the only psycho with a full time art director." Move over, Tom.
This comes up because we've been discussing the "Mapping Sitting" show at the Grey Art Gallery. Two contemporary artists, Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari, working solidly in the Western post-colonial/conceptualist mode, present hundreds of photos made by a Lebanese commercial photography studio from roughly 1950-1990. This is supposed to repair Western ignorance of the real Middle East*--presumably all at one gulp. Bill says the grid reminds him of the freshman class pictures in the National Lampoon high school yearbook, which were reproduced so small no one could see them. I thought of Robin Williams' masterpiece in One Hour Photo. The grid at the Grey sure looks arty from the installation shot--the artists (one based in Beirut and one in NY/Beirut) appear to have captured, appropriated, and neutralized all this historical commercial (i.e. non art) work with their eye-boggling grid. Also colonized it in the sense of taking it over and presenting it as their own (nothing wrong with that but let's get it on the table), and exoticized it in the sense of why are we having this show if it isn't about consuming "non-Western" experience. I realize I'm critiquing an installation shot--maybe the actual work is more meaningful.**
*From the website: "Collectively, the images convey the pluralistic and multifaceted communities captured by indigenous photographers—images far different from photos of the region circulating widely in the popular press today. In Mapping Sitting, Raad and Zaatari reveal how Arab portrait photography not only pictured individuals and groups, but also functioned as commodity, luxury item, and adornment. Concentrating on commercial images, the exhibition not only raises questions about portrait photography in the Middle East, but also about portraiture, photography, and visual culture in general."
**Update: toc says in the comments: "with his work as 'the atlas group' raad often works with 'historical' documents that he creates himself, rather than true objets trouvés. an installation of automobile motors left over from car bombings in beirut is really just a collection of whatever motors raad can find in the city hosting the exhibition. i haven't seen 'mapping sitting', but i suspect there's something more going on than the worthy politics/august sander ethnography that is presented in the marketing materials." It would certainly be more interesting if the Lebanese portrait studio turned out to be fiction but somehow I don't see NYU (Grey) participating in a hoax. If anyone knows the real story I'll be happy to post it.
Hanne Darboven, Cultural History 1880-1983, Dia Beacon:
with his work as 'the atlas group' raad often works with 'historical' documents that he creates himself, rather than true objets trouvés. an installation of automobile motors left over from car bombings in beirut is really just a collection of whatever motors raad can find in the city hosting the exhibition. i haven't seen 'mapping sitting', but i suspect there's something more going on than the worthy politics/august sander ethnography that is presented in the marketing materials.
Thanks, I added your comment to the main post, with a query to the blog-reading public.
Oops, I didn't mean to imply that it was a hoax. What's more to the point, maybe, is to say that Raad's work as the Atlas Group puts him in the role of a pretend Curator of a traveling museum of Beirut, but that the museum's collection may have a tenuous connection with reality. I wouldn't say The Atlas Group was necessarily a critique of museological exoticism, but it was a self-conscious, playful, and not overly didactic adoption of the museum's post-colonialist mode.
I just remembered that i actually did see an earlier version of maping sitting, a couple of year's back. (i don't remember the big photo grid in that show, it must have come later). anyway, what i remember is that the photos of the itinerant workers were really interesting, raising ideas of gender, leisure & class. but the piece that stood out the most was this one.
By "eye-boggling" I was referring to the tradition of bowling over the viewer with a big grid of images--the kind of oceanic explosion of data that grabs your attention but dampens content. Since neither of us have seen the Grey show it's kind of pointless to exchange jabs. I need to go eat some sugar cereal.
saltz on raad
If I'm feeling energetic I'll do a post about "Jerry's demon voice." Notice that after the first five paragraphs of ecstatic writing the demon takes over in paragraph six and completely guts Raad, leaves him bleeding on the floor, then the piece goes back to Jerry waxing poetic and concluding it's a good show.