The Great Divide

Photography's Two Different Worlds

There's no question that the proliferation of photography at the Armory Show made that the place to be for passionate photo mavens as well. AIPAD still holds some surprises (often in the astonishing range of prices for vintage work), but this year, at least, only a few of the booths showed genuinely promising new artists. I was excited to see fresh work by Sally Mann, whose photos of her husband's bare arm summed up her synthesis of historic and modern approaches at Edwynn Houk, and Joan Fontcuberta's latest sly foray into photo parody—a wall of vivacious fake Picassos and Mirós at Zabriskie. And the startlingly muscular, black-and-white abstractions of Charles Lindsay, made by abrading the negative itself, looked great at William Floyd's booth.

But those highlights pale next to the many photographic diversions and discoveries at the Armory Show, where I filled page after notebook page with scribbled notes and names to investigate further. New work by James Welling, Esko Männikkö, Bill Henson, Vik Muniz, Dawoud Bey, Malerie Marder, Mariko Mori, Gary Schneider, and Robert Beck (the last with a knockout installation at CRG of 13 newsprint blowup portraits of teen-boy killers) set the quality level satisfyingly high. But a surprising number of newcomers met it. Among them: Sarah Dobai (at Entwistle), with large-scale color images that suggest a mindmeld of Nan Goldin and Sam Taylor-Wood; Noritoshi Hirakawa (Art & Public), whose panoramic slice-of-life images flirted with Playboy-style hedonism; Dirk Braeckman (Zeno X), who investigates darkness and anonymity with cold-eyed flair; and Vinca Petersen (Galeria Marta Cervera), who manages to make the footloose counterculture (in her case, rave-club nomads) look both inviting and alarming. Petersen's picture of a beatific boy sleeping in a green field with an orange frisbee as his pillow was one of the many photos I wanted to walk away with at the Armory.

Size matters: Sean Kelly's Armory Show booth with photos by James Casebere at left and Seydou Keïta through the doorway
photo: Robin Holland
Size matters: Sean Kelly's Armory Show booth with photos by James Casebere at left and Seydou Keïta through the doorway

There were plenty of photographs I coveted at AIPAD's fair, too, but nearly all of them were vintage. That in itself is not a problem; it isn't necessary to choose between the present and the past. But when history—no matter how vital—dims both the present and the future, maybe it's time to see things in a new light.

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