David Goldblatt, Zwelethu Mthethwa, and 'Retratos Pintados' Evoke Art's Subject-Producer Question

Three photo shows at the Jewish Museum, the Studio Museum, and Yossi Milo Gallery

There are some scintillating overlaps in these shows. Goldblatt's includes a 1955 diptych of a black Johannesburg photographer making a plein air portrait, with a clunky, 19th-century-style camera, as well as pattern motifs in interiors and an advertising-circular lineup in the supermarket behind the swimsuit competition. The self-styled domestic spaces of Mthethwa's subjects are echoed in the fabricated identities of the "Retratos."

South African formalist: An untitled piece from Mthethwa's 1999 "Interiors" series
Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
South African formalist: An untitled piece from Mthethwa's 1999 "Interiors" series


South African Photographs: David Goldblatt
The Jewish Museum
Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, 212-423-3200
Through September 19

Zwelethu Mthethwa: 'Inner Views'
The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street, 212-864-4500
Through October 24

'Retratos Pintados'
Yossi Milo Gallery
525 West 25th Street, 212-414-0370
Through September 18

And in all three shows, there's the distinct play between subject and producer. It ranges across the spectrum, from the roving, critically selective gaze of the maverick photojournalist to the canny African art star to the aspirational Brazilian photo consumer. And yet, all three bodies of work ended up in white-cube art spaces in New York, a context that tends to flatten such distinctions. Which is where we come in. Because if we're looking actively rather than passively at these images, it's our responsibility to complete them.

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