Exhibition Paper

Morgan Kairey


Exhibition of Contemporary Art

More American Photographs

            “More American Photographs” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver shows off more than 100 works from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) along with current work from twelve contemporary artists.  Jens Hoffman wanted to recreate and expand on what the FSA did in the 1930’s.   Jens Hoffman wanted to recreate Roy Striker’s position. Roy Striker orchestrated the original photographs from the Farm Security Administration.

The FSA documented the Great Depression’s effects on people and America in general.  The work in this exhibition portrays America today in the midst of the Great Recession.  The comparison’s between the Depression and the Recession are strikingly similar.

This exhibition shows the effects of the latest economic catastrophe.  It portrays environmental tragedies, factory ghost towns, the downfall of the housing market, and the absence of economic flexibility.  It also depicts migration, gentrification, environmental abandonment, and multiculturalism.  This exhibit aims to see inside the human life and attitude coast-to-coast and does so very well.

The exhibitions artists have imitated the same straightforward and simple style of photorealism the FSA photographers established in the 1930’s. Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, who originally photographed for the FSA, are featured in the exhibition.  They show Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother.”

Of the twelve artists, I found that Katy Grannan and Catherine Opie’s photographs to be the most interesting.  Katy Grannan took the same route as Dorothea Lange, Route 99.  The towns she visited along Route 99 didn’t seem like they had changed in 80 years.  Grannan had four big color portraits on a wall.  These portraits were alongside smaller black-and-white prints, which I thought was extremely risky, but it worked.  These portraits depicted people who were homeless or extremely poor.  The one that stuck out to me the most was Grannan’s “Untitled, Bakersfield, California.”  It is a photograph of a tattooed, cigarette-smoking dad holding his worried-looking daughter.  It shows the struggle of how they are living and how they are going to support themselves.  I also appreciated her up-close portraits of a disabled man with a little kitten.  It made me stop and examine what was really going on in the portrait.  Because he is so large and the cat is so small, it really brings the viewer in to examine it.

Catherine Opie were possibly one of my favorites.  Her photographs were shown in such a way that the environmental aspects told as much as the subjects faces.  She captured everyday people at their jobs, where their surroundings and appearance tell a story about their personalities.  She depicts people such as hairdressers and plumbing store clerks  to do this.  Bravo, the plumbing store clerk, has a stern look on his face and seems a bit intimidating at first glance.  The background of the photo and the signs in the foreground tell so much about the photo and Bravo’s story. The empty beer bottles behind him, the overly-packed shelves, and the signs upon signs showed that things may not be selling as well as he would like.  It shows his struggle and dedication to keeping the store open and the frustration he has.

The exhibit as a whole really shows the realities of American life.  Photographs of people ranging from, teenagers to homelessness to people in distress, convey the uncertainty of the future and what it holds for them.  These photographs help us relate to what the rest of America is going through.  I really enjoyed the exhibit because of all of the history and it showed so many similarities between America in the 1930’s to America today.

4 Responses

  1. I love your description of Catherine Opie’s photographs. Although I was not previously familiar with her work, I was able to conceptualize the themes of her pieces through your review. By viewing the photograph of Bravo, the plumbing store clerk, I got the sense that the setting in which Opie photographs becomes essential to understanding the individual’s identity. Opie’s subject was so well integrated into his environment that instead of perceiving a background of meaningless clutter, I saw the objects as being representative of the person at hand. Thank you for introducing me to this intriguing and unconventional artist!

  2. I wasnt really familiar with Catherine Ople’s work either! It seems really interesting. Im extremely interested in photography and hope to emphasize in it with my Studio Arts major. The way you describe her work makes me want to further look into her different photographs as a way to better my own photography skills.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your paper, I have also never heard of the two artists you discussed. I mostly enjoyed how you were able discuss two different artists, but still allow the reader to really understand each artist and their work. Although I do wish you had been a little more clear about the exhibit as a whole, I think it would help if you improved your transitions from sentence to sentence. This would allow for your paper to flow a bit more and would further create a clear and concise introduction. I also wish you had gone more into depth about some of the pieces you saw, I would have loved to have learned more from you paper. Over all, I think you did a great job and I am definitely interested in looking a few artists from this exhibit up!

  4. I found your paper very interesting. I like the comparisons you made between Dorothea Lange and Kate Grannan. The similarities between their work is powerful because of the length of time that has passed between the production of their images. Your paper definitely made me want to research the contemporary artists shown in this exhibition more!

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