Saturday, May 15, 2010

Milwaukee Art Museum Photo Council annual photo review

At its premier annual event the Photography Council of the Milwaukee Art Museum votes to to donate funds for the Museum to acquire one from several candidate prints that  Lisa Hostetler, the curator of photography, has selected for the occasion. There were three candidates at this year’s event, which was held on May 13.

And the winner is…Russian born American artist Anna Shteynshleyger. (If you’ve never heard of her before, I’m there, too.) Her photograph (right), entitled Sukkoth, is a very large (I didn’t get measurements, but I’d guess 4’x5’) archival pigment (inkjet) print. It’s encouraging to see the growing acceptance of inkjet prints by museums of this caliber.

Sukkot is a Jewish holiday observed in the fall and the Sukkoth, which is depicted in the photo, is a temporary shelter that a Jewish family builds next to their house especially for the event. Meals are eaten and prayers recited in the Sukkoth. Hostetler provided this explanation: “For the artist, the image crystallizes her heightened sense of anxiety as she negotiated between the claustrophobic atmosphere in Des Plaines [Illinois] and the daunting prospect of leaving for experiences unknown. Her expert rendering of light and careful composition impel the viewer into her emotional space, one in which the tension between restlessness and trepidation is broadly familiar and decidedly human.”

My personal favorite was the more standard sized (16”x20”?) black and white image, also an inkjet print, by Fredrik Marsh (right). It’s titled Abandoned Apartment, Königsbrücker Strasse and is from a series he did in Dresden, Germany as part of a Guggenheim fellowship. I particularly like how the strong, abstract formal relationships—repeating rectangles, ambiguous spatial relationships—balance with the content of the image. It depicts a moment in time, a particular place, while simultaneously acquiring an archetypal quality of abandonment and decay. The picture within a picture conceit is perfect. It depicts a love of nature in an utterly unnatural setting. Then, because the poster of a lovely mountain scene is torn, it establishes a metaphor for loss. The abandonment of the apartment was preceded by an abandonment of the values the poster represents.

And I am happy to say that, although the Marsh print lost in the voting, MAM acquired it anyway. This has happened at these (cleverly orchestrated) events before. People (like me) join the Photo Council because they love photography and want to enable the acquisition of new work. When a work is not selected by the majority but is liked well enough, individual donors often contribute towards its purchase. The museum ends up with a win-win for its collection.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's interesting that both images are similar in terms of composition. If they were abstract paintings they'd be constructed with similar shapes. I am drawn to the black and white image, but the dramatic, dreamy light of "Sukkoth" is lovely. My guess is seeing it as such a large print is quite moving. When are these prints on display? I would love to make a trip down just to see them.