Saturday, May 16, 2015

Lots of Photography

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: In Light of the Past runs through July 26; The Memory of Time runs through September 13

On May 3, two photography shows opened at the National Gallery of Art.  One, In Light of the Past, is in honor of the 25th anniversary of the museum's photography collection (yes, 1990 is 25 years ago, I can't believe it either); the other, The Memory of Time is a survey of pieces collected with Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund.  I liked both of these shows, and both of them are worth your time, but if push comes to shove, In Light of the Past is a good show, and The Memory of Time is a great one.

Light is a historical survey of photography from the early 1840s to the late 1970s.  The first piece you see is the one pictured here - a still life by Roger Fenton, establishing the genre's connection to painting.  The dark color chosen for the walls also makes you feel as if you're looking at a room of Old Master pieces.  My favorite works in the first two rooms were some photographs of the American West; I was reminded of a show I saw at American Art on this topic and how it made me want to travel there.

One of the most interesting things in this exhibit is how the look and feel of it changes between the second room and the third.  It made me realize that I don't think I've ever been to a show before where the color scheme is one thing to start and another to finish.  It makes sense, since the third and fourth rooms contain more modern art, and the light walls and different font for the wall notes goes along with that.

The other great thing about this show is that I saw some "familiar faces" on the walls.  Artists or photographs that I'd seen before made me realize how often I come to the National Gallery and how much of each show I do retain in my memory.  Very gratifying, I must say.

Memory is also photography, but a very different show than Light.  This is all modern art; there's nothing older than the early 1990s.  This is truly photography as art, about as far away from the photos of your kid's birthday party as it's possible to get.

In the present day, everything can be shared with everyone, and photography is no longer the last word on "what really happened."  Of course, for those of us who saw the National Gallery's Faking it, we know that photographs have been capable of being manipulated for as long as photography has been around.  Still, now everyone can use Photoshop to create a new record of the past, and a new way of looking at the present.

There was something interesting or intriguing or unexpected in every room of this show, from the ghost-like photos of David Maisel to the "Houses of Parliament, London" (pictured above) by Idris Khan that recall Monet's Parliament paintings.  So much creativity, so many ways of using photographic equipment; I'm hoping to see this show again, just so I can marvel at it all anew.

Verdict: As I said above, both shows are worth your time.  If you can only get to one, see The Memory of Time.

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