A couple of days ago I stopped by the Museum of the City of New York to visit my friend Sara and I also saw the show Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered. I strongly recommend seeing it, for many reasons. Not only is it a fantastic little show, but the Museum of the City of New York is one of this city's hidden gems. Small and fairly easy to navigate in a short amount of time, this museum allows for more intimate exhibitions that have the power make more of an impact than those at very large institutions with never-ending budgets and endowments.
Now, this review might be slightly biased being I am huge fan of half of the photographers featured in this exhibition. Curated by Kathy Ryan, photo editor for the New York Times Magazine, this exhibition invites 13 Dutch photographers to share their interpretation of New York City. This exhibition was created around the theme of "portrait of the city" and the work spans from portraiture to landscape and still life. A survey of very accomplished and emerging photographers present modern works firmly rooted within the Dutch tradition. The ever amazing Rineke Dijkstra shares some of her large scale Conney Island portraits of bathers which, are always a pleasure to see. But the most pleasant work to me was both a combination of work that I had seen before but never in person, and some works that I had never seen at all. I also enjoyed some of the work made specifically for the show.
First things first.
The overall identity of the show was very well established. Good title, they incorporated that oh-so-Dutch very modern neon orange into the classical style of the museum and I think the juxtaposition works quite well. Physically the show is laid out nicely, simple, but intimate and large enough to give each artist the space they deserve. The exhibition catalog, however, I feel lacks direction. I bought it in hopes that it would be a great representation of the show I saw, but it just feels disjointed. Most the photos I liked weren't included and the reproduction of some of the photographs is a bit poor. The best thing about it, it comes with a free copy of foam magazine, which I found to be an incredibly informative, entertaining and mature publication solely dedicated to photography.
Some of the most jarring work came from Erwin Olaf. I am so used to seeing his beautiful fabricated color images that these dark an eerie ones caught me by surprise. It actually makes complete sense and it very much follows the way in which the other work has been made but I like this subject so much more. Rarely do I see an image in person and get chills; chills that I didn't get when I saw the image on the internet. I like the "completeness" of this project in that the surface, the medium, the physicality of it very much compliments its subject matter. It turns the work into an encounter, an act of active looking and thinking as opposed to a drill, a mundane system of image consumption.
Olaf pulled inspiration from a MoMA photo book called The Hampton Album: 44 Photographs, made around 1900 by Frances B. Johnston. Olaf explains that the older he has gotten, the more white his photographs have become so he revisits his older body of work titled Blacks. Olaf tries to recreate the atmosphere of 1910 with African American characters. It is so interesting because the blacks of that era are so stripped of identity, they were always "owned by" or the "slave of" and were very much a comodity. While in these images, the little boy seems to live in this house and the woman seems to be the mistress. However it is impossible to think of it that way due to the sadness and lack of pride portrayed in their eyes. These daguerreotype-like large-scale silver gelatin prints are exquisite... make sure to check them out.
Hendrik Kerstens has exclusively photographed his daughter for many years. I had seen this work before but never in person. He is solely interested in fabricating the look of 17th Century Dutch paintings. His portraits are absolutely beautiful and surprisingly, they reveal quite a lot about him, his daughter, and their relationship. I am a sucker for a simple portrait, it just does it for me and these very much anchored the show. Their undeniable Dutch-ness was great for this exhibition for it set the tone for the whole show... goo job Kathy Ryan. Also, I'm generally not a technical freak but these were sharp sharp sharp and very clean, beautiful large prints.
Finally, Hellen van Meene. This is also my first time seeing her work in person and I was pleasantly surprised to see the small scale of the work and the modest presentation. All of the work she showed was shot in 7 days in April and produced for this exhibition. The work shows young New York private school girls posing amongst the city. Every picture shows the girl(s), alone in the city wearing colorful dresses, almost as immaculate flecks infiltrating the it. Innocence in the midst of it all. Many of the compositions and models echo classical painting- one specifically very clearly alludes to Botticelli. He's not Dutch so maybe I'm just making things up but I can't get the reference out of my head (see below).
Botticelli's Birth of Venus/Hellen van Meene detail
All in all an all-around solid show, there is something for everyone. Very well curated, and well packaged. go see the show!