Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance

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Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance

Guggenheim New York 26 March to 6 September

'Haunted' is yet another example of an exhibition that ends up overwhelming in scale yet hugely disappointing in terms of curatorial vision. In reality a glorified permanent collection show, 'Haunted' presents an eclectic and discontinuous archive of both recent and historic photomedia works. Curators Jennifer Blessing and Nate Trotman frame the exhibition with such statements as: 'Much of contemporary photography and video is haunted by the past, by the history of art, by apparitions that are reanimated in other mediums, live performance, and the virtual world.' An all-encompassing teaser, indeed, but wrapped around a core of vagueness approximating the circumference of the museum's rotunda.

This spectacular yet problematic installation of diverse artworks fails to cohere as any kind of memorable whole, with the result that, as viewers, we must continually return to investigating its constituent parts. To be sure, the catalogue does attempt to build a certain amount of historical texture that is all but absent in the sequencing and arrangement of the show itself. However, if the exhibition sought to trace 'the widespread incorporation of photography in contemporary art', that has now become such a commonplace assumption that it begs for a more finely tuned examination.

If 'Haunted' is an art historical survey for the Facebook era, then I would still have wished for a more rigorous engagement with its conditions of display. As it is, we are able to check off a few big names such as those of Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Robert Rauschenberg as we stroll breezily up the ramp, but they offer little ballast in an atmosphere of comparative weightlessness. The exhibition does, however, include numerous captivating artworks, many of them video and film pieces, including Stan Douglas's Der Sandmann, 1995, and Anri Sala's Nocturnes, 1999, as well as distinctive photographs from Sophie Calle and Ana Mendieta. An insistent refrain throughout the show is that of artists creating works directly responding to the work of others. A key example would be Idris Khan's Homage to Bernd Becher, 2007, consisting of a single photographic print that superimposes many layers of one characteristic Becher typology into a more softly drawn, almost shuddering image.

Although performance was highlighted in the very subtitle of the exhibition, the treatment of performance in the context of the show was virtually non-existent--aside from a certain amount of documentation (Zhang Huan's 12 Square Meters, 1994), the increasingly performative nature of much contemporary art in general, and commissioned works by Sharon Hayes, Joan Jonas and Tris Vonna Mitchell in particular. Similarly, although appropriation is a major thread running through the exhibition, there is little contextualisation to underline the potentially radical and politicised nature of it as a methodology. Instead it is presented merely as an aesthetic choice, equivalent to so many others. Exceptions to this would include Sarah Charlesworth's seminal newspaper works from the 1970s that omit the textual bits from their reproduced broadsheet pages. …