New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography
Ilse Bing, “Self-Portrait in Mirrors” 1931

This is a large and eye-opening exhibition with MoMA’s third floor Steichen galleries filled with work by some 120 women photographers, ranging from icons like Julia Margaret Cameron and Helen Levitt to other artists not as well known. This exhibition is, after all, billed as a history of modern photography, and it demonstrates how women have played a major role in its development since the 1850s. With some 200 works arranged chronologically, beginning with nineteenth and early 20th century work and concluding with the more contemporary work of the 1990s, there is truly something for everyone. What adds to this exhibition’s appeal is that some of the work are either recent acquisitions or are being shown for the first time. There are other treats in store: the curators have assembled in-depth groups of work by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Kasebier, Modotti, Lange, Levitt, Arbus and Judith Joy Ross.

Strolling through each gallery is a journey in itself...the second gallery focuses on the 1920s and 30s and the emergence of photographic modernism. A wall of portraits here features work by Europeans such as Lucia Moholy, Claude Cahun and Hannah Hoch, Ilse Bing and Imogen Cunningham.

In the third gallery, Dorothea Lange and Helen Levitt are just two of the photographers whose work in the 1930s, 40s and postwar period take on the complex social challenges facing America. Other images shown here include Berenice Abbott’s classic black and white images of New York City in the 1930s.

Diane Arbus’s portraits of women are well-represented in the fourth gallery which also features other work in the post-war documentary genre. Also here is the set of posters entitled Action Pants: Genital Panic by Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT; in which she wears crotchless trousers as a challenge to male viewers to look at “the real thing.”

In the fifth gallery, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, and Tina Barney are just some members of the new generation of artists using photography as a means of artistic comment.

The concluding part of the exhibition features more contemporary artists; portraits by Judith Joy Ross, a powerful series by Rineke Dijkstra taken over a 14 year period of Almerisa, a young Bosnian girl, plus a wall of portraits of women by photographers that include Cindy Sherman, Valerie Belin and others.

This is an exhibition that demands your attention; you cannot just breeze past the work here even though you have probably seen many of the images before due to their iconic status. But it isn’t often, if ever, that you will see all of them in one place. This is your chance. Take it.

 by unidentified photographer.
Judith Joy Ross “P.F.C. Maria I. Leon, U.S. Army Reserve, On Red Alert, Gulf War” 1990

Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography

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Wednesday, July 7 to
Monday, August 30, 2010
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