It’s an embarrassment of riches for photography at The Metropolitan Museum right now - two amazing shows and a scattering of riches as you walk along the hallway of the Prints & Drawings galleries. (There’s always an interesting selection of works from the collection here – a visual diversion or appetizer for what’s to follow.)
First up you are met with a large close-up of Pierre-Louis Pierson’s peek-a-boo portrait of the Contessa Castiglione – the perfect precursor for the contemporary show to follow. Ovcr a period of six or so years in the late 1860s, Pierson and the Countess produced more than 700 images of her. In a shocking reversal of convention, however, it was the sitter who directed every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as just a tool in her obsessive pursuit of self-expression.
A few steps further takes you into the new Tisch gallery for contemporary photography and “Photography on Photography: Reflections on the Medium since 1960”. This exhibition – only the second to display the Met’s new-found interest in contemporary work – presents four decades of photography by artists who have turned the camera on the medium itself. Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, and a
host of lesser known names make for a interesting meditation on appropriation, authorship, and conceptualism. The show’s signature image, made by British photographer Janice Guy in 1979 is a slick turn of the tables on the viewer’s preference for the nude female form.
Last but not least, stretching over half a dozen galleries, is “Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840 – 1940”. Aside from its clunky title, this exhibition tells the story of photography’s first 100 years through the work of 13 key photographers - Gustave Le Grey, Roger Fenton, Carleton Watkins, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Nadar, Édouard Baldus, Charles Marville, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Brassaï.
It’s a little like showing off as you pass by one master print after another of some of photography’s most iconic images – but hey, it’s the Met!
As I was walking away from the museum, there was an unusually talented caricaturist creating gentle watercolor likenesses. I didn’t
want to interrupt the work in progress but I did find out he’s only
there on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.