Sunday, January 10, 2016

Come ON man

Over on LuLa we have some writing from Richard Sexton who is, I think, a respectable and thoughtful guy. At any rate, the name rings a bell, and that bell is positive. (It is possible I am thinking of John Sexton and that Richard is an idiot, however.) He's writing a series of essays that are super ambitious. Photography, where it came from, where it is, where it's going. He's going for a Big Think Piece here. Currently he's hacking his way through the past and, to be honest, not doing a very good job of it. Here's a particularly problematic segment, talking about the Family of Man exhibition at the MOMA, 1955:

But, photographs wet mounted to masonite with radial corners, and hung salon style like a presentation at a sales convention, seem not just quaint by today’s standards, but disrespectful of the medium. I remember vividly at a gallery talk in the late 90s, Danny Lyon, who was in the Family of Man exhibit, telling about his lawsuit against MOMA, which resulted from the exhibit. When the exhibit came down, MOMA did not want to pay the extra postage required to return mounted work to the exhibiting photographers. So, his 8×10 print was peeled from the masonite and mailed back to him in a mailing tube. As one might expect, peeling a wet mounted print off masonite defied a non-reversible process, and the print was damaged.

We have some basic problems here. This thing was put together by Eduard Steichen, so we can be pretty confident that it wasn't disrespectful to the medium. It was not hung salon style, which means "all jumbled together on the wall at varying heights without regard for anything", when used in this kind of dismissive way. It was also not hung "on the line", which means all in a row at eye height and which sucks for this sort of thing. It was hung with great care and in a fairly radical way, but in a very carefully considered way. As far as I can tell the exhibition was not returned to any of the artists, although the the prints were mounted on masonite.

Finally we have the basic problem that Danny Lyon was 13 years old when the exhibition went up, and so wasn't in the show at all.

I have no idea what the hell Sexton has in mind here, but he's probably muddling up two or three different anecdotes here, and can't be buggered to check anything that he writes. Which is pretty annoying.

Come ON, man.

Updated: Adam Marelli heard the same story from Lyon in 2011, and this version is far more reasonable. It also supports Sexton's "even the MOMA had no love for photography" thesis a lot less effectively.

Update Number 2: This list of all the exhibitions ever held at the MOMA pretty much puts the lie to the commonly held belief that Photography Struggled/Is Still Struggling Super Hard To Be Accepted nonsense. Stieglitz stopped pushing for photography's acceptance by the establishment because he had won the fight. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is trying to sell something.

1 comment:

  1. Where do these stories come from???? The exhibit went up at MOMA in 1955, traveled for eight years, and according to WIKIPEDIA "The physical collection is archived and displayed at Clervaux Castle in Luxembourg (Edward Steichen's home country..."