Perpetual Motion

Photography, Already Zooming, Gathers Speed

January and February, those awkward months between the fall season's rush of hot openings and spring's gradually renewed heat, have traditionally been a time for thoughtful regrouping in the art world. The year would start slowly, with minor artists or clever group shows, and build, accumulating hype, buzz, flak, controversy, and (if we're lucky) flashes of genius until it leveled off sometime in early June and all but shut down by July. But art market cycles have been seriously disrupted over the past decade, and the on-again, off-again boom has thrown the whole system into high gear 24-7. With collectors stalking the next big thing in the heat of summer, more and more galleries stay open until August, and the beginning of the year is no longer a dead zone.

Far from it: This year, spring kicked off in January and shows no signs of letting up. Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Vik Muniz, Thomas Demand, Jeff Wall, Bill Jacobson, Carrie Mae Weems, Emmet Gowin, Jeff Burton, Wendy Ewald, Dave Heath, and Ray Metzker have all opened important exhibitions here in the last eight weeks. When a season begins with this kind of bang, you wonder how it can possibly be sustained, but the coming months will have their share of photographic fireworks.

Ready for immediate blastoff and already trailing tons of preopening hype, buzz, flak, etc., is the Andreas Gursky survey opening at the Museum of Modern Art this weekend. Gursky's computer-manipulated hyperrealism—classic German New Objectivity pumped up with Old Master ambitions and future-tech know-how—represents one of photography's most successful incursions into the art market. His enormous, saturated-color images of hotel atriums, retail displays, stock exchanges, factories, rave parties, exhibition halls, and other signposts of contemporary civilization are pure Pop: cool, monumental, definitive. Perhaps because Gursky's range is so encyclopedic and his scale so grand, his pictures have taken on an importance that earlier work in this vein (Stephen Shore's American landscapes, for instance) never quite achieved. How inflated that importance is remains to be seen. Trust MOMA's Peter Galassi to put all this in perspective with a show that addresses old-school issues from a new perspective.

Andreas Gursky’s Shanghai mesmerizes at MoMA.
photo courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York
Andreas Gursky’s Shanghai mesmerizes at MoMA.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, another crossover star whose work blends classic and contemporary concerns in art and photography, will show his first series of large-scale images at the Guggenheim later this spring. His subject—wax-museum figures and tableaux—is not a new one for photographers interested in the intricate layering of reality and illusion. But Sugimoto's larger subject is representation itself—from the translation of paintings or death masks into wax likenesses to their reproduction as life-size black-and-white photographs—and our willingness to buy into this artifice at every step of the way. Sugimoto's photo of Fidel Castro in wax was the reigning icon when the Sonnabend Gallery moved to Chelsea last spring; anticipating the Guggenheim show, that gallery has a selection of the new work on view through March 24.

Not surprisingly, artifice, both blatant and subtle, characterizes a lot of the photography on view this season. James Casebere continues to construct and photograph moonlit architectural models and shadowy interiors—this time inspired by Jefferson's Monticello—that have the seductive, disturbing power of dreams. Oliver Boberg, who's known for his photographed fabrications of anonymous urban landscapes, looks to the skies with convincingly invented images of cotton-ball clouds. Charlie White, whose last show here was gorgeously gnarly, imagines sci-fi monsters set loose in ordinary domestic and public settings, and displays the digitally rendered results as huge, superglossy color prints. Anthony Goicolea's imagination also runs wild as he takes on the pleasures and terrors of adolescent boyhood. Inserting multiple images of himself as various naughty teens into big, elaborately staged tableaux, Goicolea flirts furiously with cheese, sleaze, and the unavoidable influence of Cindy Sherman.

March 1-April 14

Cheim & Read, 521 West 23rd Street, 242-7727

New color work by this master of the American everyday.

March 1-April 15

Bonni Benrubi, 52 East 76th Street, 517-3766

A survey of high-life and low- life subjects, including Brassaï's luminous Paris, Tod Papageorge's frantic Studio 54, and Merry Alpern's busy hookers.

March 3-April 7

Andrea Rosen, 525 West 24th Street, 627-6000

White unleashes another slew of computer-generated predators on the American domestic landscape.

March 4-May 15

MOMA, 11 West 53rd Street, 708-9400

A major survey of this influential photographer, curated by Peter Galassi.

March 6-April 7

Janet Borden, 560 Broadway, 431-0166

One hundred black-and-white photos of weeds by a master of the austere landscape.

March 15-May 5

Edwynn Houk, 745 Fifth Avenue, 750-7070

"Known and Unknown" work by England's most brilliant and protean photographer.

March 17-April 28

Paul Morris, 465 West 23rd Street, 727-2752

Large diptychs of serene cloud imagery whipped up from cotton,
dry ice, and other materials.

March 17-April 14

Gorney Bravin + Lee, 534 West 26th Street, 352-8372

Her staged fantasies of freedom and isolation, featuring an ever changing cast of young women, are both compelling landscapes and intriguing narratives.

March 29-June 10

ICP, 1133 Sixth Avenue, 860-1777

In a show that coincides with the publication of a book with the same title, critic David Deitcher investigates vintage American photos of men in comradely poses that suggest an unexpected intimacy and speculates about same-sex relationships and representation.

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