I respect art critic Deborah Solomon and admire her writing, but I have often disagreed with her takes on art that we’ve both seen. Tomorrow, some time between 6 and 9 a.m. (if all goes according to plan), you’ll hear us debate publicly on New York Public Radio (WNYC) about the merits of the Guggenheim Museum’s James Turrell show, which opens tomorrow. (I’ll post a CultureGrrl link to the audio, once it’s on the station’s website.)
Deborah recently provided WNYC with commentary that dismissed the Hopper drawings in the Whitney Museum’s current show as “not very dazzling” and praised the Civil War photographs in the Metropolitan Museum’s current show for presenting “the facts as straight as possible.”
I was deeply impressed and moved by the latter show. But one of the things I learned was that Civil War photographers weren’t always such straight shooters: They were among the first perpetrators of manipulated news images, even repositioning dead soldiers and objects left on the battlefield for greater compositional allure and emotional power.
Here’s on such example from that show:
The Met’s label for this photograph tells us that the dead soldier at the bottom center may have been repositioned from another location on the battlefield and that the gun propped on the rocks was not a sharpshooter’s rifle but, rather, “a standard infantry musket placed there by Gardner and his assistants, who had used it before in other photographs and would use it again.”
But back to Deborah: My sense that I had alternate takes on these and other shows made me wonder if Solomon and WNYC’s producer for cultural coverage might be receptive to a contentious (but, hopefully, civil) critics’ conversation on the artworld.
The answer from both was yes.
Tomorrow morning, some time between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. (if all goes according to plan), you’ll hear the first (and the last?) of those friendly debates: We’ve agreed to disagree on the Guggenheim show’s centerpiece, “Aten Reign,” a monumental, site-specific light display in the museum’s celebrated rotunda. After this segment is broadcast, I’ll tell you more on CultureGrrl about why this highly anticipated work fell short of my expectations.
Part of my problem in sharing Deborah’s enthusiasm about this one…
…was that I had already savored this one—the more compact (and, for many reasons, more entrancing) Turrell installation commissioned for Alice Walton‘s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas.
Reasonable Turrell fans may (and probably will) disagree…either with me or with Solomon. Take your pick!