Photography’s ‘International Center’? My Eye It Is

THE DAILY PIC: The relaunched photo museum has a fine show in an embarrassing space.

Life, Time Life

THE DAILY PIC (#1580): Last Thursday, the International Center of Photography opened its new digs on New York’s Lower East Side with an exhibition called “Public, Private, Secret”. I’ve chosen this particular image to represent the museum’s relaunch because it’s a rare beast in that inaugural show: A classic photo from the ICP’s amazing collection, which has recently been shipped across the water to Jersey for storage. The piece is titled Woman Checking Eyelid In Trick Mirror, and it is one of a number of candid-camera images that the photographer Yale Joel shot through one-way glass then published in a December, 1946, issue of Life magazine. It fits the themes of surveillance and self-presentation that the ICP’s inaugural show is built around, and unlike several of my esteemed colleagues in criticism, I’ve got no problem with that topic or the museum’s Web-speed presentation of it. It’s not the freshest of premises for a show – artists have been exploring the topic for something like two decades ­– but it still has legs in our insane Internaceous era.

My one complaint is that this show should be taking up the same amount of space it does now, but as one small component in a much bigger, grander museum of the photographic arts, such as this city deserves to dedicate to what is clearly the most important visual medium of the last 100 years. Instead, the ICP’s exhibition galleries actually find themselves sized down from the midtown spread they occupied for the last while. They have come to occupy a space that can’t escape or hide precisely what it is: The not-so-converted basement of a condo building.

Someone has got to be to blame for photography’s demotion to Section 8 housing, and I nominate the city’s one percenters: Given the amount of money they manage to strip-mine out of the local and national economies, you’d think they’d feel some onus to return a few token dollars to the culture of the metropolis where they’ve chosen to live. It’s simply embarrassing that, in New York no less, photography’s so-called “International Center” feels provincial and peripheral.

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