Currently hanging in the photography galleries at the Museum of Modern Art is a display of recently acquired works. The exhibition, XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography, while not revolutionary from a curatorial perspective, is nevertheless compelling. The selection of works displayed reflects the excellent taste of the department’s curators, making it difficult to argue against any of the evocative works shown. Acquiring new works that encourage the development of the collection is often a curator’s greatest mission, and the Museum of Modern Art seems to embrace this task with gusto. Their already rich collection and is now elevated even more with the addition of works by photographers such as Yto Barrada, Phil Collins, Liz Deschenes, Stan Douglas, VALIE EXPORT, Robert Frank, Paul Graham, Leslie Hewitt, Birgit Jürgenssen, Jürgen Klauke, Běla Kolářová, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Dóra Maurer, Oscar Muñoz, Mariah Robertson, Allan Sekula, Stephen Shore, Taryn Simon, and Hank Willis Thomas.
Moving from the 1960s into the 2000s the works displayed present different approaches to harnessing the fluidity of the medium. Robert Frank’s cryptic montages taken in Mabou and Běla Kolářová’s radiograms are compelling as they serve as examples of photographic experimentation. Along a more narrative line are works by Stephen Shore, Paul Graham and Allan Sekula. Pieces from both Shore’s “American Surfaces” and Graham’s “A1: The Great North Road,” attempt to capture the American ethos, whereas Sekula’s “Fish Story” documents the effects of globalization on America’s working class.
There is also a large presence of photographs documenting feminism in the 1970s. Included are Birgit Jürgenssen’s “Frau,” examples of VALIE EXPORT’s exploration of identity, and Lynn Hershman Leeson’s journey to becoming her alias Roberta Breitmore.
Moving beyond the 70s and into contemporary work lies a strong focus on more conceptual pieces. Mariah Roberston’s installation, “11″ created with analog darkroom processes is especially compelling as it prompts viewers to consider the impact digital photography has had on the medium. Also of interest is Oscar Muñoz’s exploration of self-representation in “The Game of Probabilities” (2007) and Yto Barrada’s depiction of abstract geometric forms as visual signifiers.
Though the exhibition has not been hung in its entirety (another gallery will open in August), there is still abundance of engaging photographs. Surveying the exhibition one cannot help but think about future exhibitions and curatorial possibilites.
The exhibition is up until January 6, 2014 and located in The Edward Steichen Galleries on the 3rd floor of The Museum of Modern Art.