'Into the Sunset': The MOMA Corrals a Photo Survey of the American West

The museum saddles up, effaces history

In many ways, it's a problem of curatorial style triumphing over substance. The thematic, free-associating installation can be great. But decontextualization is a tricky gambit that leaves many photos here stranded on a wall with supposedly "like" images.

Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference, by Darius Kinsey, 1906
Courtesy Museum of Modern Art
Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference, by Darius Kinsey, 1906

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'Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West'
The Museum of Modern Art11 West 53rd Street, moma.org
Through June 8

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Instead of old curatorial strategies being challenged, it would be nice to see a greater breakdown of categories within photography itself. After all, one of the most captivating photographs in the show is Richard Prince's Untitled (Cowboy) (2003), from a series started in the early 1980s of images appropriated from Marlboro advertisements. As Arthur Danto wrote about Andy Warhol's "Brillo Boxes," Pop Art owes a great, mostly unacknowledged debt to postwar commercial art and its bright, appealing aesthetics. Photography is the same: Prince's photograph is, above all, seductive. That's why it's hung at the entrance; the first image you see, greeting you head-on. A newer frontier in photo-curating might be to give similar billing to photographs—particularly contemporary ones—originating in a variety of contexts. It might at least provide a broader, more panoramic view of the West.

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