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Memorializing banality, in many shades

November 14, 2009 | 11:30 am


No one disputes that the 1975 exhibition “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” was a landmark show. Attendance at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., wasn’t huge, and the presentation didn’t introduce any unknown talent.

But the show put a name to a phenomenon — the proliferation of straight, seemingly uninflected photography of the banal, built environment — and that name stuck. What remains cause for discussion is what exactly "New Topographics" meant, and why the term and its attendant attributes have had such an enduring influence.

A restaging of the exhibition at the L.A. County Museum of Art raises those persistent issues and provides a framework for their debate. More than 100 of the 168 photographs in the original show have been reassembled, about 10 each by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel Jr.

“What I remember most clearly from the original show,” Gohlke recalled, “was that almost nobody liked it. I think it wouldn’t be too strong to say that it was a vigorously hated show. Some people found it unutterably boring. Some people couldn’t believe we were serious, taking pictures of this stuff. And actually, that attitude is still very alive and well.”

For Leah Ollman's Sunday Arts & Books story on the show, click here.

Comments () | Archives (5)

“New Topographics" eh? this is the subject I've been painting for years, glad to know it has a title. Does that title apply to paintings?

al the same can you seen in Poand also.But hope will be better,Wish all the best from Poland

it's very american, straightforward.

I went to this show today with high expectations; the simple purity of design and subject of the above Robert Addams photo above got me salivating and the teasers posted on the walk to the EB contemporary wing kept raising my temperature the closer we got. The show itself had a good amount of my favorites subjects, but it has only about a dozen photos that were really killers. To many almost gems and lazy or crowded compositions and flat lighting. Another big flaw was to many photos from the same shooting days subject, if some discipline was shown in roughly paring down the amount of photos by half, it would have been a small, but fairly satisfying show. Less is more in everything folks. Still it looked well attended and I hope opens doors to this subject for painters too.

Souless, sterile, detached, illustrative, these are the first works of the academic generations in photography. Before this, all were self taught, and sought to reflect a world they lived in , felt, saw god in everyday. People who toiled, who lived life, had sex, kids, jobs, and saw both death and life, not attempting to capture something they were not a part of. But fascinatd by.

This is far closer to Joseph Albers than Walker Evans, who always reflected humanity and god in a natural settng, where all melded as one. Instead you get the illustrative design of Albers, where students are taught that his squares ARE art, rather than color swabs of design, the first PMS charts. Albers simply took one tiny aspect of art, seperated what all artists had always used, and was held up as a lofty goal, rather than a sterilized version of one aspect of art, one layer, where relationships are no more. And academic sterility put in for profit, so hacks can teach things they dont truly understand, or more importantly, feel. Even Suprematism sought god in their works, and reflected a world of newly learned principles.

I was a photographer at this time, and hated it then, and still bored by it now. These are things by people who never held a real job, who are fascinated by daddies workplace, who find a small thrill in something they have never done, while the rest of us simply see the landscapes we pass everyday, that we work in, where god does not reside, by commerce is king. And as these children are good young capitalists, at least of the academic/museo/gallery complex of moneymaking widgets, we get illustrated theory, where in true art one starts with theory and work towards life. They simply make things that "prove" their theories, which are but postmortems of art, not art itself.

It is of intellectuals, those who think their tiny minds are all, that nothing else exists, that they can control what they see, that man is omniscient, that we are all minigods. And so we have the results of such individual based glorfications, the economic collapse of the arrogance of man. They are nowhere near as clever as they think, but as they are citizens of a lesser art, they sell in a market created by the art schools pouring out tens of thousands of newly minted geniuses, and soon to be customers as few will ever make anything worth a damn.

There is no god here. No nature. No humanity. It is self congratulatory illustrations of cleverness. And so not creative art at all. They are products of a limited thinking, reflective of the academic world, not life.

art collegia delenda est


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