The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino


AIPAD 2014 Panel Discussion
Photo by Norman Borden . Source: courtesy Norman Borden
Norman Borden, "Aipad Panel 2014" 4/11/2014

The 2014 AIPAD photography show is history, but a lively Saturday panel discussion exploring what drives curators’ decision making today continues to be relevant. As moderator Lyle Rexer pointed out in his opening remarks, the demise of “medium specificity” and the increasing use of sculptural and various forms of abstract elements in photographic work has produced “unclassifiable hybrids” in photography. This transformation, along with the migration of work to the Internet, challenges museums’ standards of inclusion and acquisition as well as their capacity for displaying photography.

Corey Keller of SF MoMA explained that her institution has photography in every department as well as video and sculpture in the photography department. She said, “We worry about patrolling borders, we question how we can educate the public about new kinds of work…do we cross over without realizing it?”

In Sweden, Johan Sjöström is trying to deal with the use of electronic media with the use of different formats becoming more problematic.

Jeff Rosenheim discussed some of the challenges facing The Met. “We’re concerned with sound and whether it is broadcast outside the gallery in which it’s presented. When you install a photograph with a sound event among other works, it tends to take over in an aggressive way, even a gentle version of it.” He said the Met would be better able to show work with sound elements once it occupies the Whitney Museum’s old building on Madison Avenue.

Moving on, Rexer mentioned how some recent exhibitions have raised questions about curatorial authority. Do museums and curators need to be more transparent in their decision-making? Eggleston’s work appearing in larger formats was mentioned, as was the Bill Brandt show at MoMA. Rexer said some of Brandt’s assemblages were left out of the exhibition’s catalog since the curators felt they weren’t photographs. Or did they really feel they weren’t good enough to be part of the show? Other examples were cited, revolving around images in the Gary Winogrand retrospective jointly organized by the SF MoMA and the National Gallery of Art and opening at the Met in June.

Photo by Garry Winogrand . Source: Metropolitan Museum
Garry Winogrand, "El Morrocco, New York" 1955

This raised the issue of curatorial choice—and it’s a sensitive subject. In the Winogrand show, 100 pictures were printed for the first time (Winogrand died suddenly and left behind thousands of rolls of undeveloped film and unedited contact sheets.) Keller said that every print made posthumously was labeled as such in the wall text and the catalog page. Rosenheim added that there has been a remarkable transparency in the handling of Winogrand’s unprocessed work. Since the Winogrand prints were made from contact sheets he himself had marked, perhaps this indicated they should be printed. Curators make decisions all the time that people don’t agree with but that’s part of the job, Keller asserted. “It’s a subjective judgment.” In any event, the Winogrand work was printed only for the exhibition; it’s not for sale and the prints will become historical study materials, adding to the artist’s oeuvre. Rosenheim brought another perspective on curatorial choice; when he acquired the Walker Evans collection of 30,000 negatives and 10,000 transparencies for the Met in 1994, he decided they would not be printed for sale or for exhibition. They’re now on the Met’s web site and other sites. “It’s part of new way of looking at an archive…and I did not suppress any picture. There are some pictures there that people may not recognize as Evans’s.“ Clearly, museum curators have much to say and much to do in this transformative era of photography.


In the Q &A that followed, someone mentioned the name of Vivian Maier and how she’s selling everywhere but no museum has touched her. Rexer responded by saying he thinks she will begin showing up since people are interested in her story and you have to deal with that. Apparently, Sweden has. A show of her work is scheduled to open at Goetenburg in September.



Moderator: Lyle Rexer, Faculty member, School of Visual Arts, NY, curator, critic

Corey Keller, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Nissan Perez, Shpilman Institute for Photography, Tel Aviv

Jeff Rosenheim, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Johan Sjöström, Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden



Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat