Thursday, April 21, 2011

International Center of Photography: 6th Ave and 43rd St

The International Center of Photography (ICP) on Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) is part photography school, part research facility, and part museum.  I toured the museum on a whim (I was running late for an art and architecture tour at Lincoln Center (only given once a week) and traffic was against me), and was pleasantly surprised by the four current exhibits.

The museum's main level has the requisite gift shop and the lower level has a small cafe.  Both are good stops for a respite if one is experiencing museum fatigue.  I went through the museum on my own and made a point of reading most of the descriptions, as there were no audio tours available.  I also availed myself of the guided tour (3 pm daily) and while it was nice to have the interaction, I didn't gain much more from that than I did from the reading.

The current exhibit on the main floor is an extensive collection from what is known as The Mexican Suitcase.  That is not the most descriptive title, as the photographs really have little to do with Mexico. The negatives had been saved by the then Mexican ambassador to Spain in his luggage and was recovered in 2007 after the suitcase had passed through numerous unknown hands. The negatives and photos therefrom are from several Jewish photo journalists (Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Seymour ("Chim")) who covered the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  The photographers tried to rally the international community with compelling, anti-fascist/Francisco Franco images (see right) and played a critical role in the war efforts.

**As a side note,Cornell Capa, who founded the ICP in 1974, was the younger brother of Robert Capa, and Cornell was fortunately able to see his brother's long lost work rediscovered before he passed in 2009.**

The first of the lower level exhibits is called "Jasper, Texas" and is a collection of community photographs taken by barber and professional commercial photographer Alonzo Jordan.  They show a proud and accomplished African-American community at landmark moments like graduation, purchasing new homes, and homecoming parades.  This is in stark contrast to what Jasper, Texas is now known for--the brutal racially motivated dragging murder of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998.

The next exhibit is a small collection of river baptism postcards (see left).  What was particularly interesting about this collection was not the actual photography.  That was rather poor.  However, they illustrated the scale of the events and were accompanied by correspondence both from the baptized and from Northerners who had purchased the postcards as examples of the spectacles they witnessed on vacations in the South.  These postcards actually captured more than baptisms; they caught a moment in American history (narrow-minded warts and all).

The last exhibit is a controversial commentary on Chinese consumerism.  This is painter-photographer, Wang Qingsong's first solo exhibition in the U.S., and I expect it will not be his last.  This artist sets up sound stages to exactingly execute images that relate his interpretation of China's intense collision with global consumer markets.  In "Requesting Buddha Series No. 1," the photographer created a self-portrait-Buddha with multiple arms reaching up and grasping numerous signs of commercialism: foreign beer, Chinese and American currency, Marlborough cigarettes, a cell phone, a roll of film, a compact disk and a tiny Chinese flag  (see right).  Other photos include murky public bath houses, rural migrant workers trying to enter Shanghai, and a re-interpretation of classical Chinese paintings with modern-day trappings.  All are grand-room-size in scale and are a bit surreal.  They certainly make you think.

In any case, if you are in the neighborhood and have a little free time (and $12 to spare for admission), I would suggest this is a better way to spend the day (or at least an hour) than just hanging out in Bryant Park (just a block away). Check out ICP Info for details on hours, current exhibits, and admission.

1 comment:

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