Flesh and Metal

Margaret Bourke-White, Untitled (RCA Speakers), ca. 1935.Pablo Picasso, Nature morte "la cafetière" (Still Life "The Coffee Pot"), 1944.Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917/1964

I went to the Cantor Center to see Carrie Mae Weems. I figured I’d stick my head into SFMOMA’s On the Go show there* because, what the hey, I was already at the museum. Oh man. Am I glad I did so. I was expecting sort of a retread featuring highlights of their early-20th-century rooms. What I got was something which caused me to rethink my opinions on a lot of my favorite artists and artworks.

*Since SFMOMA is closed for remodeling, it’s partnering with various other museums and organizations so as to maintain a physical presence in the community. This show at the Cantor is the first I’ve seen of the closed SFMOMA.

This is one of the rare shows which not only combines painting, sculpture, and photography into a single gallery, but puts them all in conversation with each other too. It’s beyond wonderful.

Look at the list of artists on display. Margaret Bourke-White, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, etc. etc. They’re all looking at objects and architecture from a surface/form/texture point of view. The artworks aren’t depicting physical objects, they’re exploring, in different media, the new textures and surfaces which have resulted from the mechanical age.

It’s so obvious when you see them all together that I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t put this together on my own.

I’m also upset that museums don’t blend photography in with everything else all the time. So much of photography is about taking the everyday object and transforming it into something more by emphasizing its form. Readymades and photographs should go hand-in-hand in museums. Instead photography is off in its own wing or floor as if it were in its own distinct world from the rest of art.

Which is an extremely limiting view of photography. And does a disservice to painting and sculpture too.

I hadn’t realized how much, say, Weston and Duchamp had in common before. Weston’s Excusado isn’t even on display and I’ve never even seen them linked by subject matter let alone by concept. This show makes it explicit and obvious and has me rethinking the context of all the early photographers now.

Nicely done SFMOMA. I hope all your On the Go shows are this revelatory.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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