March 26–September 1, 2010
Much of contemporary photography and video seems haunted by the past—by the history of art, by apparitions that are reanimated in reproductive mediums, live performance, and the virtual world. By using dated, passé, or quasi-extinct stylistic devices, subject matter, and technologies, such art embodies a melancholic longing for an otherwise unrecuperable past. Haunted documents this obsession, examining myriad ways photographic imagery is incorporated into recent practice and in the process underscores the unique power of all reproductive mediums. The works included range from individual photographs and photographic series to sculptures and paintings that incorporate photographic elements; videos; film; performance; and site-specific installations. While much of the work has been created since 2001, the show traces the extensive incorporation of photography into contemporary art since the 1960s.
Within this context, Haunted is organized around a series of formal and conceptual threads that weave themselves through the artworks on view:
Appropriation and the Archive: When Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol began silkscreening snapshots and press photographs into their paintings in the early 1960s, they established not only a new mode of visual production but also a new conception of the artwork as a repository for autobiographical, cultural, and historical information. In the ensuing years, a number of artists, including Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sarah Charlesworth, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Douglas Gordon, Luis Jacob, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman, have pursued this archival impulse, amassing fragments of reality either by creating new photographs or by appropriating existing ones.
Documentation and Reiteration: Since at least the 1970s, photographic documentation, including film and video, has existed as an important complement to the art of live performance, often setting the conditions by which events are staged and sometimes obviating the need for a live audience altogether. The power of the document to reiterate the past has inspired artists such as Marina Abramović, Christian Boltanski, Tacita Dean, Joan Jonas, Christian Marclay, Ana Mendieta, and Gina Pane to use photography not only to restage performative acts but often to revisit the bodily experience of historical events. Along the way many have reconsidered the document itself as an object embedded with history, closely attending to its material specificity in their works.
Landscape, Architecture, and the Passage of Time: In addition to documenting people and events, one of photography’s primary historical functions has been to record sites where significant, often traumatic events have taken place. These images are doubly arresting, for they capture spaces where something has already occurred. As viewers, we are left with only traces from which we hope to reconstruct the absent occurrences in the fields, forests, homes, and offices we see. With this condition in mind, many artists, among them James Casebere,
Spencer Finch, Ori Gersht, Roni Horn, Luisa Lambri, An-My Lê, Sally Mann, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, have turned to empty spaces in landscape and architecture, creating poetic reflections on time’s inexorable passing and insisting on the importance of remembrance and memorialization.
Trauma and the Uncanny: Photography has, of course, not only profoundly impacted our understanding of history; it has altered, or as some theorists argue, completely reconfigured our sense of personal memory. From birth to death, all aspects of our lives are reconstituted as images alongside our own experience of them. This repetition, which is mirrored in the very technology of the photographic medium, effectively produces an alternate reality in representation that, especially when coping with traumatic events, can take on the force of the uncanny. Artists such as Stan Douglas, Anna Gaskell, Anthony Goicolea, Sarah Anne Johnson, Jeff Wall, and Gillian Wearing exploit this effect, constructing fictional scenarios in which the pains and pleasures of personal experience return with eerie and foreboding qualities.
Death, Publicity, and Politics: When Warhol created his silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe in the wake of her death, he touched on the darker side of a burgeoning media culture that, during the Vietnam War, became an integral part of everyday life. Today, with vastly expanded channels for the propagation and reproduction of images, events as varied as the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the deaths of celebrities such as Princess Diana and Michael Jackson have the capability of becoming traumatic on a global scale. As this new cultural condition has taken hold, many artists, including Adam Helms, Nate Lowman, Adam McEwen, Cady Noland, and Anri Sala, have reexamined the strategy of image appropriation Warhol pioneered, attending closely to the ways political conflict can take on global significance.