Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Picturing New York

Berenice AbbottBerenice Abbott - I'm a fan
Without the excuse of snow, the Museum of Modern Art was open this weekend, and I set out on Sunday to see the exhibition, "Picturing New York: Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art". The thing was everyone else had the same idea; it was packed.
The first thing I should say is that I was hearthily disappointed with the organisation. When I got my ticket they had run out of the accompanying programme and when I went back for one they had run out of it again. I finally got one as I was leaving. Also I am not a fan of the 'New Galleries'. Granted the huge numbers of visitors emphasised its shortcomings, putting a high class exhibition like this in what is effectively a house is a bad idea. Rooms were cramped, doorways were blocked and there were stairs up and down to see something that would easily fit in a normal wing of a gallery. Why not just do that? The main gallery should be used for this event instead of struggling with prams, kids and old folks. Viewing the wonderful photos was like a conveyor belt with everyone forced to move at the same pace to allow for the person pressing from behind. Later when I went to the cafe, it was the same story. The cash registers for coffee and meals were together and the queues were mashed together too. I heard one of the women at the till asking was there something going on upstairs. They were busy.
All that said it is just as well that the exhibition is so fine. All the big names are on show: Arbus, Weegee, Alfred Stieglitz, Cindy Sherman, Berenice Abbott. The list went on and on. Abbott, in particular, had a classic shot of New York by night, a constricted alley shot and a mesmerising photo of an apartment block in cool shades and shadows (it's practically a Hopper painting). Weegee's 'The Critic' was on show, while Arbus had a typically wacky 'Child with a Toy hand Grenade'. From The New York Times, a shot of a wall collapsing on firefighters has to be one of the best action shots I've seen. And the range encompassed pictures from the 1880s right up to the present day. Overall though was the whiff of quality; everything was black and white and everything had that timeless quality that only the best photos exude. Yes, there were some duds, but recent photos like 'Mr Ben's Hand' did not look out of place beside their elder siblings.
And exhibition well worth visiting, though probably best if you do it on a weekday.
Berenice AbbottAnother Berenice Abbott



At 6:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting what you say about using the house for the exhibition. I went a couple of weeks ago - a snowy Sunday afternoon - and while it was pretty busy in the gallery, I thought the location worked well for it. I purposely didn't take a guide, and instead wandered in and out of rooms, up and down stair cases, around corners, clockwise, anticlockwise. Each corner I turned or doorway I entered revealed another joy; a large block-like gallery would have expunged any element of surprise, and would not have had the same degree of intimacy. Because of the way it was curated, you could put your face so close to the photos your nose was almost touching, and with the degree of detail in some of them, that was the only way to really appreciate them (yes, I was wearing glasses). If the exhibition had been curated in a strongly thematic way, I could better understand your view on the location, but with the less ordered arrangement of the photos, I thought the gallery was pretty much spot on.

At 6:52 pm, Blogger Niall said...

Your point is well made. I can only say that given the numbers present when I attended, getting close and taking time was not always possible. The type of audience too was not always facilitated by the venue (prams don't work in such an environment). At the end of the day though it's probably just a matter of taste.


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