25 January 2006

ICP (mostly) a disappointment

I spent last weekend at a conference in NYC. The weather was wonderful - sunny and high 40s-low 50s. In January! Sunday I went to the ICP to see what is hanging. Here are very brief responses: The large space upstairs was devoted to "Che! Revolution and Commerce" which left me completely cold. Who cares? Revolutionary icon or advertising icon, neither enterprise was inspirational in the 60s or 70s, now both seem wholly irrelevant. An exercise in manufactured nostalgia. The small back room upstairs was given over to "African American Vernacular Photography: Selections from the Daniel Cowin Collection." This is a nice collection and some of the images were extremely revealing. However the exhibition was cramped and with just a few folks in the room, it was difficult to actually see the images, many of which are tiny. Downstairs was "The Body at Risk: Photography of Disorder, Illness, and Healing" some of which was very good. In particular I found the images from David Hanson's "Waste Land" project extremely powerful. This is a series triptyches comprised of Hanson's aerial photographs of toxic landscapes (taken in the mid-1980s) and flanked by USGS topographical maps and EPA text describing the sites. Overall though, the theme was way too diffuse to make much sense. The exhibition - including everything from Lewis Hine in the factories to Salgado on the end of Polio to stock FSA works to W. Eugene Smith to .... - really needed more thought to make it more than a vehicle for big names. As it stands the exhibition seems like a litany of the mostly bad things that happen to people. Finally, stuck back in the back corner is "Ken Light: Coal Hollow" which is focused and sobering. Light’s images of West Virginia landscapes and of the people who populate them are haunting. But the dedication to the coal miners who died on the job a couple of weeks ago already was inadequate given the news of yet more dead miners last Saturday.

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