Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

New Topographics: Photos of a Man-Altered Landscape

leave a comment »

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA’s New Topographics, which runs through January 3, is a recreation (but actually a curation of a curation) of a show that was originally presented in the Rochester New York at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, in 1975.  Apparently the originally show drew a limited amount of viewers: it was winter, and there was a lot of snow…The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson decided this show was so pivotal that they wanted to recreate it and bring the show to several venues, one of which was LACMA.

The show at LACMA was curated by Edward Robinson, but Britt Salveson probably had a lot to do with the shows incarnation at LACMA as well.  Salveson was the director and chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography.  Somewhere around the time of this show coming into existence Salveson was sucked up into LACMA and is now the head of both the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography and the Department of Prints and Drawings. Check out an interview with Salveson here.

LACMA has spent a lot of time and effort on this show, as is evidence to the mini webpages devoted to each of the ten artists in the show found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Further tribute to the importance LACMA now places on photography is the space that New Topographics inhabits.  The second floor of the BCAM is half taken up by New Topographics, the other half photographic self portraits (this is the first time the whole second floor of BCAM has been all and only photography.)

The space is actually immense when considering the size of the exhibition.  LACMA brags that the two thirds of total work from the original exhibition is in this reincarnation.  This is an impressive number; however LACMA has two times as much gallery space compared to the Eastman House.  Yikes, this means a lot of white wall.  The many colored walls of Your Bright Future have been reformed back into the blinding white cube.

White cube diagram of New Topographics

Despite the several issues with labeling, and the issue of curating an already-curated show, I mush say I think the curator was very creative in dealing with the issue of massive space and a smaller amount of content.  In some rooms this was done better than in others.

Room 1:

Rows of homes: Adams, “Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973”

This room was given to Robert Adams.  A single line of same sized photos hugged two walls drawing the eye along from left to right.  Several vitrines had an awkward presence in the room.  These vitrines were there for context apparently, Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, and several other Rucha books were included to show how the design of these books influenced the exhibition catalogue of the original New Topographics.  These vitrines seems like a bad way of filling an otherwise sadly empty room, and the things inside the cases were not clearly defined as not being part of the original exhibition.

I love you, but why are you here?--Ruscha’s “Every Building”

Room 2:

Modern city: Nixon, “Buildings on Tremont Street, Boston, 1975”

This room was very evenly spaced: two walls each for the two artists, Nixon and Gohlke. These photos weren’t in any particular dialogue with one another.  I thought the Gohlke spoke more to the Adams in the previous room or to the Wessel in the following room.  Nixon’s photographs of Boston were some of my favorite works in the show, clean and new and seemingly promising.

The Gohlke works brought up an interesting point about the information provided. The work below on the right had a caption which said the photo was taken in ’74, and that it was printed in ’75.  Was LACMA bragging about having one of the original photographs?  I noticed that the curators were irresponsibly inconsistent with providing this information and distinguishing the dates these photos were printed, and informing the viewers what was an original print.

Concrete Jungle: Gohlke, “Landscape, Los Angeles, 1974” x2

Room 3:

Freakishly Empty Los Angeles: Wessel, “Hollywood, 1972” x2

The Wessel photos in the next room spoke volumes to the Gohlke not just because they both featured barren Los Angeles Landscapes.  These amused me for a while trying to figure out their locations, they are all so seemingly familiar, and also very nondescript.

Barren landscape: Baltz, “South Corner, Riccar America Company, 3184 Pullman, Costa Mesa,” From the series New Industrial Parks, 1974

Baltz’s work was also in this room across from Wessel.  His series of buildings from industrial park in Irvine were clustered together in a grid in the center of the wall, which for a minute almost distracted me from the inappropriately high white ceilings.

Lying about their size: Shore, “Proton Avenue, Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, August 18, 1974”

The third photographer featured in this room was Shore.  These photos stood out because they were the only in the show that were color photographs, and they were big.  I was informed that at the time these photos were originally taken such large-sized color photos would not have been possible to print, so clearly these were printed more recently, a fact that LACMA curators did not point out.  Nor did they point out the fact that they had changed the scale of the photos which dramatically impacted my reception of the work.  Shame shame.

Room 4:

Not enough views to fill the space: Deal, “Untitled View (Albuquerque), 1974” x3

Deal’s many untitled views of Albuquerque attempted to flood an entire wall in this room, barely managing to fill the space. And then finally a successful attempt at filling the space.  The curators attempted the same corner-hugging line of installation used in room one with the photos by Schott.  These photos were all from a series where Schott documented Motels along Route 66.   The crazy architecture of these buildings flows from image to image around the corner like following an arrow-shaped street sign.

Kicks on Route 66: Schott, “Untitled,” from the series Route 66 Motels, 1973 x3

Room 5:

This room was entirely used for the husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher, artist nine and ten.  The series of mine architecture and coal manufacturing plants were hung in groupings.  One of the works in this room was from the original New Topographics (the tarnished silver frame signified this) was actually a series set into a grouping in the same frame.  All the other works in addition to being hung on high, stark white walls, were also framed with in white frames.  Oh the little details like frames!

Serial photos: Bechers, “Loomis Coal Breaker Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, 1974”

After this last official room of the works from the original New Topographics came two other (what LACMA would say were) contextualizing rooms.  In the one room with windows opening up onto Wilshire Boulevard were works by Smithson, Graham and my favorite Turrell.  The Turrell piece was a sort of ephemera from his Roden Crater project which makes me go crazy whenever I think about it.

In the final room, which was a kind of screening room was the space created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation.  On the far wall was projected a commissioned piece about oil and landscape with a bench set in front of it. Along another wall were two computers for viewing the Center’s website. Plastered above the computers where poster for some of the center’s previous exhibitions which looked like a college student’s dorm room.  And obnoxiously there was another living room type space.  I mentioned this in the Beuys inquisition were LACMA curators set up an awkward sitting area with cushy chairs and reading materials.

So final conclusions:  The photographs in the exhibition spoke for themselves; there was no need for all the extra stuff that was supposed there for context. Sure there was a lot of white walls, but if the curators had just embraced the white expanse full heartedly instead of half-heartedly the installation would have been far superior.

– H.I.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: