With a show title like “Photography on Photography,” I walk into the Joyce and Robert Menschell Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art expecting to see photographs of people taking photographs. Instead, I’ve been deceived. They are photographs, but nothing like I expected. They don’t seem to have sort of relation to each other either. There is a photo of Castro, photos from the Depression era, photos of Jackie Kennedy and these two figural sculptures which must have been misplaced. The show has only been up since April but the labels already look worn. The gallery walls are an off-white color and I can see the undercoating of beige paint where the new layer has peeled off. I’m feeling color deprived and it is very difficult to want to give this gallery a chance. The wall text doesn’t suck me in but I when I give reading the labels a try, I finally get the joke. Yes, they all may be photographs but they’re all photos about undermining photography.
I have to giggle about Sherrie Levine’s series After Walker Evans. Levine has taken photographs of Walker Evans photographs and is claiming them as her own. As they are technically hers, it gives me so much joy to see Levine’s name listed as the artist on the label. Moving on I come to photos of a park scene with text captions below each image. These are reprinted photos originally taken by paparazzi photographer Ron Gallela and reproduced by Lutz Bacher. The label is at the end of the story, so one has to take a moment to read these pieces in order. I have to wonder if this is intentional! The story unfolds that these photos were taken as Gallela chases Jackie Kennedy through central park, realizing only later that she wanted him to chase her – she had fooled the photographer. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Castro piece also acts subversively. In reading the label, I found out that the picture is of a wax sculpture from Madame Tussaud’s wax museum! The photograph is so good it’s still hard to believe that the man in the photo isn’t Castro himself. Likewise, the figural sculptures by Karin Sander aren’t what they seemed to be either. They’re models made by inputting photographs into a 3-d model making machine. It’s spectacular!
Making the whole experience even better, the security guard is constant bellowing “No photography!”. I can’t help but break out in laughter, which I’m sure is also not allowed. In the same gallery where Sherrie Levine’s work is displayed, we visitors are told we can’t take pictures of the artwork. The irony of the situation sends me over the edge and causes me to embrace the show – security guard and all. Working from the museum’s collection, it isn’t a bad display. Not every piece is amazing as a visual or a story and some bring less to the show than the security guard (who is now letting people photograph the labels). However, I give this exhibit credit for making me laugh. As an individual who loves humorous art, this show gets a thumbs up on the condition that next time its shown, the gallery space better reflects the invigorating nature of the artwork.