Posted by John Daquino on 6/28/09
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10028-0918
April 21, 2009 - August 2, 2009
The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984 is the first major museum exhibition to focus on a highly influential group of somewhat affiliated artists that were one of the first generations raised with popular television and an abundance of disposable products. This upbringing, coupled with the rising popularity of M.F.A. academic training that often discussed Barthian post-structuralism, produced a generation of artists wanting to deconstruct visual culture by appropriating its photographic and filmic imagery in order to expose deeper meaning and symbolism. This may sound all-too-academic, however one sees this form of academicism in this exhibit, which makes it not really one for the public, but rather for the historians and artists alike. So much so that when I was walking through the show, I overheard several visitors retelling first hand accounts, calling some of the artists on view repeatedly by the first names and/or shortened nicknames.
The title of the exhibit stems from a very small show organized by the writer and critic Douglas Crimp that was at the nonprofit gallery Artists Space, located in New York City, back in its heyday in 1977. For the brochure to the exhibit, Crimp wrote an essay considered highly influential, arguably better than the work that was on view, regarding the use of appropriation and the re-using of photographs.
One should note that this concept of appropriation was not new to art, take for example Picasso and Braque, Duchamp, and of course the Pop artists of the 1960s (including the Independent Group of the mid 1950s). However, what the so-called Pictures Generation did was that it made this method of art making extremely popular - think about how many times you see appropriation in art in our present day. The “Younger than Jesus” generation did to the Internet what the “Pictures Generation” did to magazines and television.
The highlights in the exhibit, for me, are the artists that were not included in Crimp’s original exhibition – Dara Birnbaum, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman. I was happy to see Birnbaum’s video Technology / Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978) included in the Met’s show, which uses footage taken from an episode of the then-popular TV show, Wonder Woman, reframing it in a way that exposes the fraudulent image of the superhero as a powerful feminist figure. Richard Prince’s re-photographed Marlboro Man ads shine here at the Met, demonstrating that a technique is only as good as its user. And it is always a joy to see Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills in person, for, ironically, there is always something lost in their reproduction.
- John Everett Daquino
Images: Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978); Cindy Sherman, Unittled Film Still #54 (1980). courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.