Why Pictures Now (1982) is a black-and-white photograph by artist Louise Lawler. The photograph, whose title doubles as a statement and a question, depicts a matchbook, with the titular phrase inscribed on it, sitting in an ashtray. The photograph also serves as a focal point to the eponymous exhibition slated to open at the Museum of Modern Art on April 30 and through July 30, 2017. “WHY PICTURES NOW” will be the artist’s first major survey and promises to showcase some of Lawler’s iconic works.
The Pictures Generation, as a reductive term, has grouped together an array of artists in ways that are sometimes impermissible, if not flat out preposterous. Nevertheless, the term has stuck, and for better or for worse, it has lived on to describe a generation of artists. Working the 1970s and ’80s, these artists experimented with what Douglas Crimp, in his 1977 essay “Pictures,” popularized as the “re-presentation” of the image—operations that highlighted the photograph’s objecthood (e.g. collage, photographing photographs or other artworks, appropriating commercial images). Crimp’s text was printed as an accompanying catalog to the seminal exhibition of the same name at Artists Space. Lawler was not included in this exhibition, but has since been considered a stalwart representative of Pictures group.
On the occasion of the artist retrospective, artnet News wanted to look at 10 contemporary artists that are working in the mode of “re-representation.” Instead of grouping these artists under the rubric of “The New Pictures Generation,” here we look at artists that are continuing in the legacy of Lawler—using photography as a tool for institutional critique, and retooling the medium as a conduit for creative commentary on visual culture.
1. Joshua Citarella (b. 1987 New York. Lives and works in New York.)
To steal from Tim Gentles’s Art In America review, Joshua Citarella’s photogoraphs “toy with the often porous boundaries between reality and representation within contemporary image-making.” The New York-based artist, who is represented by Higher Pictures gallery in New York, has made a career for himself working with digital media and sculptural form. Citarella incorporates Photoshop techniques to either create objects that the artists would otherwise not be able to work with (like marble blocks), or to erase fragments of the figure as a commentary on mass media’s obsession with the body.
2. Sara Cwynar (b. 1985, Ottawa. Lives and works in New York.)
Sara Cwynar works in photography, collage, and installation. The artist is a hoarder of images—obsessively collecting and recomposing pictures to unimaginable ends, with a drawn out penchant for kitsch. Exploring how vernacular images determine the way people think in the world, the artist creates photographic assemblages, in an attempt to reify the magic or allure of the photograph. In a BOMB interview, Cwynar states: “I am influenced by a whole mass of stuff but to pick a few: food photography, discarded commercial still lives, people’s vacation snapshots, amateur nudes, stock images, all sorts of photographic tropes and how these circulate, change in value, and help us to form meanings.”
3. Martine Syms (b. 1988, Los Angeles. Lives and works in LA.)
The young and up-and-coming conceptual artist, Martine Syms, works in video, photography, installation, performance, and publishing. Often using double-sided photographs mounted on c-stands, the artist sources her images from family photos, advertisements, and films, often contemplating on how black figures are portrayed in the media. Syms is represented by Bridget Donahue in LA. She will also have her first museum solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, from May 27 through July 16, 2017.
4. Artie Vierkant (b. 1986, Breinerd, MN. Lives and works in New York.)
Post-Internet artist Artie Vierkant works in the hybridization of physical and digital media, often creating sculptures out of his own photographs. In an essay he wrote for October, the artist states:
“We are increasingly used to thinking our world through objects. This may seem counterintuitive in a time of screens and files, which pretend to be immaterial and untactile, but in fact it seems clear that these interfaces, as our primary methods of organizing and interacting with the world today, have made it easier to think of the world as an enormous assemblage of objects, including ourselves.”
Vierkant is represented by New Galerie in Paris and is currently part of the group show “ARS17” at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki through Jan 2018.
5 Kate Steciw (b. 1978, Bethlehem, PA. Lives and works in New York.)
“Kate Steciw’s work investigates the shifting relationship between objects in the physical reality of everyday living and their two-dimensional representations on the Internet,” says Charles Marshall Schultz in AiA. A former photo retoucher, the artist often takes stock images and manipulates them, creating colorful abstract tableaux. She is represented by Higher Pictures Gallery in New York, Brand New Gallery in Milan, Italy, and Neumeister Bar-Am in Berlin, Germany.
6. Leigh Ledare (b. 1976, Seattle, WA. Lives and works in New York.)
Trained as a photographer, the New York-based artist utilizes photography, archival images, film, and text in his work. His artistic practice involves using images and image culture to explore ideas of identity, family and social relationships, and sexual desire. He is represented and Mitchell-Ines & Nash in New York.
7. Lucas Blalock (b. 1978, Asheville, NC. Lives and works in New York.)
Artist Lucas Blabock creates digital photographs that bring to the fore the application of digital editing and production of the photograph in the Internet age, focusing primarily on how pictures are made and how they relate to people in space. His photographs are wacky and purposefully so, where humor takes on a role of its own. He also shoots his photos with a large-format film camera and scans his images to tinker with on Photoshop.
8. Ryan Foerster (b. Newmarket, Canada, 1983. Lives and works in New York.)
Ryan Foerster is a prolific photographer who manipulates his photographs the natural way—using nature and the outdoors to create often blotchy and strange colorful patterns. Using photosensitive paper or aluminum plates, the artists will throw dirt, sticks, and other objects onto their surfaces and let light do its trick. Foerster works out of his studio in Brighton Beach.
9. Timur Si Quin (b, 1984, Berlin, Germany. Lives and works in Berlin.)
The artist, who is of German and Mongolian-Chinese descent, uses stock photos and commercial imagery to create fictitious brands, like his fake fashion brand “PEACE,” to show a link between the metamorphoses of the natural world with that of the digital and commercial. The artist told Artforum: “I’m interested in the way commercial images reveal the processes by which humans interpret and respond to the world around them—these are the fingerprints of our cultural image-search algorithms.”
10. Marco Scozzaro ( b. 1979, Turin, Italy. Lives and works in New York.)
Formerly trained as a fashion photographer, the artist works with film photography and then digitally manipulates it to create surreal and strange visual landscape. In an interview with Qiana Mestrich the artist noted that his “work is an exploration of the current visual vernacular and I wanted to take different elements from the visual landscape and digest and work with them to create multilayered photographs and sculptures.” Scozzaro just celebrated his first solo exhibition, “Digital Deli,” at Baxter St, in New York earlier this year.
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