Just politics as usual

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I wouldn’t say I regret the trip Roberta and I took to Lehigh University in Allentown to see the five Larry Fink “Forbidden Pictures” (see post, Feb. 3). Nor would I say it was worth that much effort.

The pictures are hanging not in the gallery but in the lobby of a building that includes poli sci as well as a bunch of other departments–in other words in a public space, not an art space. Some students were incensed by the political content of the images, which included a George Bush look-alike casually fondling the breast of a dame (image above).

The irate students raised enough of a fuss to engender a disclaimer on the Lehigh U. gallery website. They also engendered an air-clearing discussion; we learned this from a sign posted on the door leading to the photos. Students standing in front of the photos (shown) were debating the work when we arrived. So as political agit-prop, the photos can be declared a success.

As art, though, I’d have to rank them as somewhat less successful. Roberta observed that the reinterpretation of Weimar art via photos suffered from the loss of painterliness. Without the texture, exaggeration and mark-making, the images didn’t stand up.

Nor did the work have the usual charms that carry Fink’s work along. His acute eye for social nuance is wasted on the staged, fashion-y, made-up shots. His outsider’s eye was an insider’s eye here engaged in hermetic navel-gazing.

Even the flesh that his eye often lingers on is wasted here, drenched in makeup, stiffened in poses. And the endless space that some of his candid photos provide is not here. Instead, a tilted, false perspective blocks any entry into deep space.

These photos would have felt right at home amongst the fashion photos in the pages of the New York Times Magazine section, where they were originally supposed to appear (lines in image from scan of folded poster version).

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