"Photography in Contemporary German Art: 1960 to the Present." (Guggenheim Museum, SoHo, New York, New York)

Article excerpt

In post World War II Germany, the green shoots of an "invisible college" of photographically inspired practices appear to have sprouted largely around three personalities associated with the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie: Joseph Beuys, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Or at least this is the logical conclusion to be drawn from this survey exhibition. Gary Garrels, Senior Curator of the Walker Art Center, where this show originated, has undoubtedly organized an impressive exhibition. As Garrels correctly points out in his introductory essay, "The photographic medium came to be recognized as having enormous physical and conceptual capacities that could touch on and expand the potential of other media as well." That statement, while undeniably true, is something of a commonplace. And there is precious little, either in the succeeding catalogue entries or the museum installation itself, to oppose the myriad self-descriptions of the significance of the artists' works. For the viewer there are few opportunities to imagine how photography as a medium of high art might be problematic, used not merely for its own image-making sake, but as a tool to foreground what has been called its "vernacular expediency." When this latter quality is suggested, the works are generally positioned in an area of socio-cultural critique or are coded as participating in the "emptying-out" of subjectivity. How photography, for German artists, has compromised, alienated, even defeated, the so-called traditional practices of painting--not to mention painting's specific genres--is a question this exhibition sometimes alludes to, but mostly marginalizes and ignores. Thus, the conceptual issues relative to photographic and photographically based practices of representation in Germany are generally buried beneath a different set of problems. …