This is the second in a brand new blog series: 30 Museums in 28 Weeks. Through CUarts’ Passport to New York program, Columbia students get in free to 30 museums in the city. We will attempt to visit every single one of these museums before the end of this academic year and share the experience here with you. 30 museums. 28 weeks. That’s a lot of culture.
Two days ago, I exited the subway attempting to find the International Center of Photography. I did this with what I can only describe as the flair of someone who considers herself a New York citizen but has truly only lived here for three months. No fanny packs, but close. Immediately passing Bryant Park, I was looking for a staid museum, some sort of smart architecture that separated itself from the hubbub of midtown Manhattan’s billboards, banks, and business. This was the wrong approach, I should have been looking for something that resembled a Mac Store, clean, sleek, transparent, and constructed with a lot of glass.
Dress Codes, the new exhibit at the International Center of Photography, is a disjointed exploration of identity, gender, consumerism, technology, and a litany of other factors that are used to define and judge. I think the sheer expansiveness of the countries represented and the cultures shown was meant to spark introspection, to be celebratory, and even freeing but the images mainly kept making me want to send money to Sally Struthers. In effect, they felt more like social commentary than art.
There were, however, some stunning pieces throughout the exhibition. Yto Barrada, in a series of nine images entitled The Belt, cleverly documented the meticulous and methodical dressing of a Muslim woman from Tangiers in comic book, paneled form. Pinar Yolacan’s portraiture, from afar, seemed filled with iridescent glows and lighting however, upon further inspection were genuinely creepy. The radiant and glistening bits were actually all animal products from local Portuguese markets, adorning her sitters in costumes made of cow eyes, intestine, poultry, and blubber. One corner of the exhibit’s basement was entirely dedicated to a photographer that portray people as furniture ala Thornsten Brinkmann. By mixing the conventions of portraiture and home decorating, Brinmann’s corner is truly an optical feast.
In a small room, Richard Learoyd’s large-scale portrait entitled Agnes, Red Dress, recalling days of 19th century camera techniques such as daguerreotypes and complicated camera obscura sittings. The result is a non-doctored, and perfectly detailed mural sized image. It is this size without the use of computers or an enlarger which is practically unheard of in this day and age!
The strangest morsel of the exhibition was curated by self-proclaimed “cyber girl” Cao Fei. In order to even view the exhibit, one had to log onto Second Life, an interactive, digital community. At first I was annoyed by the idea since I simply do not have conventions in place to properly evaluate an online exhibit, do I sit or stand at the computer? Do I use the computer’s zoom feature or do I walk back and forth from the screen. But there are perks to the idea of an online exhibition. The artist has complete control over her environment, and the rental costs are cheap!
Overall the museum is a visual carnival that is certainly worth the trek downtown and the press release is definitely notable for the sheer breadth of media involved. Check it out here.
Keren Veisblatt, TC ‘11