Photographic Memory

The Season Envisions a 101 Lesson in the Medium

The fall season is studded with photography shows that should provide a solid, if spotty, grounding in the history of the medium and some much needed perspective on the hyperinflated contemporary scene. Edward Steichen, whose passage from prim, dreamy pictorialism to upmarket protomodernism was both influential and instructive, comes to the Whitney with a retrospective that covers everything from his famous views of the Flatiron building wreathed in mist to his World War II naval combat work. At the core of the show are more than 100 fashion photos and celebrity portraits made under contract for Vogue and Vanity Fair—proof that pop culture, with its deliberate confusion of art and commerce, started long before Warhol. Though Steichen and Jacques-Henri Lartigue were working at roughly the same time during the early decades of the 20th century, Lartigue had the advantage of beginning his career as a privileged child whose family's enthusiasm for adventure and invention he recorded in some of the wittiest, most spontaneous photos ever made. The amateur snapshots Lartigue made in the 1910s and '20s, although not "discovered" or displayed until the '60s, captured the explosive spirit of modernism more definitively than anything Steichen could have imagined in the same period. A choice selection of Lartigue's vintage prints will be at Edwynn Houk.

Other shows range across the historical and stylistic spectrum, including Eugène Atget's sublime turn-of-the-century "Portrait of Paris" at, unexpectedly, the Museum of the City of New York; activist-artist Ben Shahn's '30s photos of the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, and other local enclaves at the Grey Art Gallery; Baron von Gloeden's neoclassic homoerotica of Sicilian adolescents falling poignantly short of the Greek ideal at Wessel + O'Connor; Bauhaus pioneer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's enduringly avant-garde photograms at Ubu; and groundbreaker Robert Frank's definitively modern photos and rare early books at Scalo.

But it's the contemporary lineup that gives the new season its greatest kick, and the action starts right off the bat with a slew of important September openings. Katy Grannan, one of the discoveries of the instantly historic "Another Girl Another Planet" show, fills Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren with large-scale color portraits that are at once unblinkingly deadpan and unashamedly sympathetic. Another "Girl" alumna, Jenny Gage, continues to explore the porous border between documentation and fiction with subtly staged pictures of a group of young women she befriended in Ventura, California, at Luhring Augustine.

Jenny Gage shows photos of working-class women at Luhring Augustine.
photo: Jenny Gage/courtesy of Luhring Augustine
Jenny Gage shows photos of working-class women at Luhring Augustine.

Saul Fletcher, in his third show at Anton Kern, expands upon his enigmatic, reticent oeuvre in a linked group of small color images that are as odd as they are beautiful. Fashion provocateur Terry Richardson returns to Alleged with what's sure to be more gleeful outrage, though we suspect he'll have some competition from another fashion-world bad boy, Matthias Vriens, who brings his more refined but equally over-the-edge sensibility to the Project. Pierre et Gilles, absent from these shores for much too long, get the retrospective treatment at the New Museum, which touches on all aspects of their defiantly campy iconography, including a recent nighttime series set in scary, sexy fairy-tale woods. And Peter Hujar, whose cult following has grown steadily since his death in 1987, is the subject of a 60-photo show at Matthew Marks that concentrates on work from the '80s. Included will be little-known views of the Jersey wastelands, pictures taken at the crumbling Christopher Street piers, animal portraits, nudes, and his elegant, soulful, unforgettable photos of people who passed through his East Village studio.

September 1-30
Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren, 730 Fifth Avenue, 445-0444

For her first solo show, Grannan rounds up a few of her large-scale color portraits of adolescents along with a more recent series on young mothers and couples in suburbia.

September 7-October 21
Scalo, 560 Broadway, 334-9393

September 7-October 14
Rare, 435 West 14th Street, 645-5591

The photos in Steiner's "Sensory Memory" are organized in four color groups for a conceptual spin, but they're sure to be grounded in sensuality and emotion.

September 8-October 14
Anton Kern, 558 Broadway, second floor, 965-1706

In what promises to be his strongest exhibition so far, the British photo-grapher shows small color still lifes and staged portraits with a mysteriously haunted quality.

September 8-October 21
Ariel Meyerowitz, 580 Broadway, Suite 1203, 625-3434

The pioneering color photographer shows previously unexhibited and largely vintage street work made between 1966 and 1976.

September 8-October 7
Gorney Bravin + Lee, 534 West 26th Street, 352-8372

This creative conceptualist shows new work from four series, including manipulated photograms, Polaroids, and views from his studio window.

September 8-October 8
Wessel + O'Connor, 242 West 26th Street, 242-8811

September 9-October 14
Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th Street, 206-9100

Gage's casually incisive, large-scale color photographs of working-class girls are not always what they appear to be.

September 9-October 14
Bonakdar Jancou, 521 West 21st Street, 414-4144

The collaborators who made an especially strong impression in this gallery's "Staged" roundup bring nine of their elaborately constructed photo fictions to New York for the first time.

September 10-October 8
The Project, 427 West 126th Street, 662-8610

The former editor of Dutch and current design whiz at Gucci and YSL fills his first American gallery show with edgy not-quite-fashion photos and hotel-room sketches of hustlers.

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