At its core, the photography exhibition currently occupying the elegant space of the Arthur Ross Gallery is a showcase for one of Penn’s proudest achievements of the last year: digitizing its photography archive.
“9 Perspectives on a Photography Collection,” is drawn from Penn’s photography archive and organized around an interesting idea — that when nine photographers select the images to be exhibited the result will show the collection’s strength in its parts and in its whole.
Organized by Lynn Marsden-Atlass, University Curator and Director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and Gabriel Martinez, artist and Senior Lecturer of Photography in the Department of Fine Arts, the show’s images were selected by Martinez along with Anna Neighbor, Michael Bryant, Nancy Davenport, Jamie Diamond, Karen Rodewald, Sarah Stolfa, Brent Wahl and Tony Ward, colleagues and working artists from the Fine Arts Department.
The photographs depict the nine curators’ distinct points of view or curatorial voices.
Together, each curatorial segment reveals its own aim while satisfying the greater goal of providing access to the Penn Art Collection’s mammoth holdings. The show’s success lies in its ability to add another link to Penn’s ongoing story of its archive while revealing the narratives created by the nine facilitators.
Separating the nine sections with a gulf of white wall was a smart visual choice on the part of Martinez and Marsden, giving each segment room to breathe.
The fact that this show is part of an ongoing archiving effort seems to have compelled the curators to work together to figure out the right balance of photographers to include. Thus, one finds Helmut Newton’s sleek, brazenly sexual works – chosen by Ward for his irresistibly grand tableaux of erotic haute couture – facing off with Larry Clark’s hidden world of drug-addled teenagers from the “Tulsa” series, chosen by Sarah Stolfa for her desire to decontextualize this series. The works complement one another and, when accompanied by statements from their curators, raise questions not always asked of these photographers.
For instance, Larry Fink’s photographs mine territory that needs all the attention it can get — the yawning abyss between the upper and lower classes in America. But the photos also call to mind the curious question of what such a series would look like, with its lens trained on two socioeconomic groups with only degrees of separation. Fink is an eloquent writer and storyteller, eager to lend his subjects humanity, and it would be more than an intellectual exercise to see him use these two considerable skills to explore minute – but no less real – differences in, say, the upper class and the upper-middle class.
So, as the viewer looks at the historic value of the archive and the nine analytical tangents drawn from the whole and placed on display here, she has the choice of looking at each retrospective as part of a whole illustrating the tremendous breadth of the University’s collection, or as a personal touchstone for the nine contributors responsible for assembling their component part, but it’s best seen as a combined force.
November 10, 2012 – January 27, 2013. Artist talks included Friday, November 9’s 9 Curators’ Panel Discussion. Neal Slavin on November 13, and Larry Fink on November 28. December 7, 2012 | 5:00 PM: Film Screening The Fighting Lady. Weekend student docent tours at 1:00 p.m. and 3 p.m.