A New ICP Opens on Bowery Today

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday June 23, 2016

Today, the International Center of Photography invites visitors to its new home on the Bowery, with free admission. Much of the first floor of the new space has been designed as a “village square,” a place for conversation on the subject of photography and visual culture. With windows opening onto the sidewalk diagonally across from the New Museum, a café with enough tables for dozens of discussions, and a bookstore under the banner of the artist-run Spaces Corners, the new ICP is an inviting addition to the Lower East Side art scene. 

The inaugural exhibition, Public, Private, Secret is organized by Curator-in Residence Charlotte Cotton, with ICP Associate Curator Pauline Vermare and Assistant Curator Marina Chao. It takes on the increasingly fraught subject of privacy and surveillance, through contemporary photography and video, together with several highly relevant projects from the recent past along with historical documents, forensic mug shots, and a courtroom drawing. 

Public space at the new ICP

The subject at hand is not “What is photography today?” The subject is “This is visual culture today.” Social media, especially video, is our primary visual culture as presented here, alongside some of its roots in photography and experimental video. For example, Polaroid portraits by Andy Warhol of second-string actor, Ted Hartley and Interview journalist Laura Decoppet (1981), mounted on reflective mylar, transform the “celebrity” portraits into instant selfies. Nearby, no surprise, is a 15-minute slideshow of Kim Kardashian, comprised of images from her book, Selfish. This demonstrates one of the main problems with time-based art: the longer time it takes to watch this slideshow, rather than to quickly flip through its source material, the book. 

Still from  
What I'm Looking For

In a nook on the opposite wall is the seminal 2004 video by Shelly Silver, What I’m Looking For. First seen at MoMA, and seamlessly produced from still photographs, the piece tells the story of strangers seeking intimacy in public spaces. The female narrator approaches people through an online dating site, looking for anyone “who would like to be photographed in public revealing something of themselves.” Longing and frustration play out on both sides of the camera; both the artist and her subjects seem to be searching for something that they can’t quite find.  It’s as affecting today as it was when it was made. Similarly affecting is Rigged, a 2014 video by Kate Cooper that explores the fetishization of young women through an avatar (right). Nearby are five prints from Larry Clark’s Tulsa (1971), which are still as provocative as they were when they were first published.

The curators, in building context for the newer material in the show, have included twelve 20 x 24-inch prints of the unfolding crime scene surreptitiously shot by the fashion photographer protagonist of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up. In the film, the “evidence” offered by the “surveillance” photos results in false identities that create an unsolvable mystery. In fact, they were made for the film by Magnum photographer Don McCullin, who was paid £500 for his work. Real-life surveillance by super-paparazzi Ron Galella plays out a 1971 photo he made of Jackie O’Nassis, shot from behind, fleeing his intrusive lens.

The opposite of privacy, in full display here, is the post-Warholian 15 minutes and more of sharing information about oneself. Creators, a real-time stream of tweets and image posts by social media stars shows how they mine the dynamics of the media to brand their image and popularity through constant self-promotion.

Another piece by the same group, curated by Mark Ghuneim with Mengwen Cao and Daphne Chan, Transformation utilizes several queries to gather public posts by people revealing their physical transformations. These range from changes through dieting and cosmetic procedures to gender realignment and self-identification. The formerly private process of personal metamorphosis, as evidenced here, has become an everyday form of public communication. In the downstairs stairway landing is a wall of inkjet prints from #hotness Instagramposts, curated by the same group from user-generated images that get past social-media channel filters, altered just enough by their creators so as to not be censored. Many are highly erotic, altering current definitions of what is “private” and what is “public.”

Anthony Weiner outed on social media site, from Morality Tales, curated by Mark Ghuneim with Mengwen Cao and Daphne Chan

The problem with identifying photography as visual culture through social media channels becomes clear and relevant in this exhibition, in particular through the video Mainsqueeze, on the first floor. On a wide-screen display, an overweight, seemingly developmentally disabled young woman is playing with a live crayfish, her manner disturbingly distant. This continues for a while until she squashes the creature to death under her boot. The video, collected from clips posted on the 4Chan bulletin board by Jon Rafman, purports to transform degrading situations into art by intereweaving them, with poetic intent, into new fictions. Seen in context with exceptional video works such as What I’m Looking For proves how difficult this is to do. And that self-representation through camera images is more concerning to mass image consumers than is the medium of photography

Public, Private, Secret opens today at the International Center of Photography, 10am-6pm, with free admission. 250 Bowery, NY, NY. Info Photos: Peggy Roalf

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