7 Nov 2015 – 20 Mar 2016

Museum of Modern Art, New York


Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015

Installation view: Ocean of Images

Installation view: Ocean of Images

Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence)
HD video installation on four synchronized monitors
2 mins, 45 secs
Edition of 5 plus II AP

New Photography, MoMA’s longstanding exhibition series of recent work in photography, returns this fall in an expanded, biannual format. On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, New Photography is expanding to 19 artists and artist collectives from 14 countries, and includes works made specifically for this exhibition.

Probing the effects of an image-based post-Internet reality, Ocean of Images examines various ways of experiencing the world: through images that are born digitally, made with scanners or lenses in the studio or the real world, presented as still or moving pictures, distributed as zines, morphed into three-dimensional objects, or remixed online. The exhibition’s title refers to the Internet as a vortex of images, a site of piracy, and a system of networks. Ocean of Images presents bodies of work that critically redefine photography as a field of experimentation and intellectual inquiry, where digital and analog, virtual and real dimensions cross over. These artists explore contemporary photo-based culture, specifically focusing on connectivity, the circulation of images, information networks, and communication models. 

Coinciding with the opening of the exhibition, MoMA will also launch an online platform featuring selections from the archive of the New Photography series, including documents and images from the series’ 30-year history.


11 Dec 2015

DIS :: Ocean of Images at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art’s New Photography exhibition considers contemporary image-making in an increasingly globalized yet formless world

The Museum of Modern Art’s revamped, and now biannual New Photography exhibition is called Ocean of Images, which the curators Quentin Bajac, Roxana Marcoci, and Lucy Gallun explain is a title that clarifies the exhibition’s attempt to probe “the effects of an image-based post-Internet reality.” In this context, the Internet is to be understood as “a vortex of images, a site of piracy, and a system of networks,” and the show brings together nineteen international artists grouped around this central theme. Ocean of Images explores the extent to which their photographic practice reflects these rapidly changing techno-social norms.

The show opens with three works by the American collective DIS, known for their online publication DIS magazine. The first, Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence) (2015), is a sensuous video performance by pop artist and drag queen Conchita Wurst, who appears between two clear glass panes of a teleprompter, in the faux setting of an awards ceremony. The title signals the virtue of Wurst’s increasing popularity, and hints at the adaptability of people to new images and identities as something linked to the changing role of the screen.

Themes of performance and fame are echoed in German artist Natalie Czech’s works, as in A Poem by Repetition by Aram Saroyan (2013), which folds together Saroyan’s sparse three-line poem with cropped and appropriated sections of the record cover for Pink Floyd’s Money from 1973. Czech’s works reflect the current retromania in popular (and artistic) culture, and methodically point to its strong links to a changing contemporary sense of identity. Czech’s taut formal control is echoed in Israeli artist Ilit Azoulay’s Shifting Degrees of Certainty (2014), which arrays a collection of eighty-four fragmented inkjet prints of curtains, doorways, statues, pre-historic animals, and a stuffed giraffe into the vague shape of a proto-gothic church façade. This piece reflects the associative bounties of image archives, by intimating disjunctive links between digital images floating in physical space.

David Hartt’s Belvedere cycle (2013), Anouk Kruithof’s Subconscious Travelling (2013), and Indrė Šerpytytė’s 1944–1991, a series of re-photographed wood-carved models of Soviet-era torture houses (2009–15) also engage ideas of the archive. Šerpytytė’s row of bleak monochromatic prints is simultaneously ghostly and typological. Hartt’s photographs of rooms filled with stacks of photocopied documents, made in a free-market think-tank (The Mackinac Center for Public Policy), display the conjunction of bureaucratic order (a neutral, gray cubicle specifically for fiscal policy) and the callousness of lobbying (binders on “greed” and “freeloaders”recall Mitt Romney’s infamous remark on his “binders full of women”). Hartt’s pictures suggest a strange mixture of frat-boy humor and rigid bureaucracy in the functioning of American political power.

Other pieces invoke older modes of photographic imagery that continue to maintain their purchase on the present. Lele Saveri’s The Newstand (2013–14) transposes his ten-month occupation of a functioning newsstand, selling independent zines, artist books and records, from a subway stop in Brooklyn to the Steichen galleries of the MoMA. Its presence here underscores the ascendant interest in hand-made and limited edition printed matter within the circles of high art. The Newstand installation is open to customers during select hours, outside of which patrons are requested “not to touch the materials unattended.” This hauteur and reserve is a startling contrast to the openness of the original newsstand, and with its irreverent fare. That contrast is heightened by The Newstand’s proximity to Found Not Taken, Luanda (2013) by Edson Chagas, which features five pallets of free stacks of lithograph posters showing photographs of urban disjecta arranged into still lifes in interstitial parts of Luanda.

Nearby is David Horvitz’s Mood Disorder (2015). The work tracks the spread of Horvitz’s self-portrait, head in hands by a roiling sea, after he uploaded it to Wikimedia and it was adopted as a stock image to symbolize troubled mental health. This piece, ostensibly about motion and replication, instead becomes stilted in its installation as printed spreads hung on a gallery wall. Along with Positive Ambiguity, and Lucas Blalock’s overtly distorted and digitised studio pictures, this work appears in conceptual terms to be most germane to the exhibition’s stated premise of addressing photography’s relationship to “post-Internet reality.”

This raises the question of whether, and how soon, one might expect photographic art, or the slow speed of major museums’ exhibition schedules, to reflect a technological revolution that has only recently begun to transform every avenue of western public and private life. We might think of Warhol and Rauschenberg’s work from the 1960s as exemplary of art informed by the late adolescence of the television age, as in the case of Double Elvis (1963) or Retroactive I (1963), but public access to Facebook is not even a decade old. Web-driven life is still in its infancy.

While its survey of photographic modes is commendably broad in geographic variety, Ocean of Images is a stately affair, and it generates little catalytic energy between its works at a visceral level. It lacks the dizzying hybridity of the “vortex” signalled in its own description, and the relative paucity of depicted human beings in the exhibited works evidences the show’s preferential interest in the life of images over life in images. This legitimates the presumption that we have all, in some fundamental sense, migrated to a world enclosed within the screen, suggesting that Ocean of Images is an exhibition that seeks to theorize the world rather than know it, to rework a line from John Szarkowski’s New Documents exhibition in 1967.

One wonders whether some structural change to the slow speed and expense of MoMA’s exhibition schedule isn’t a necessary precondition for responding to the velocity and complexity of life in the digital realm. Perhaps a more provisional and less comprehensive approach might deliver a more concise and emphatic exhibition. The danger of a thematic approach to a biannual survey built around the fact of rapidity may be that the mechanism itself is too slow.

Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa Aperture 11 December 2015

5 Nov 2015

DIS :: Conchita Wurst Stars in MoMA Photography Ads by DIS

It was 2010 when a group of brand-conscious creatives founded DIS, the online platform that took accepted notions of fashion and turned them on their head. Instead of runway editorials, they praised the simplicity of Under Armour and the strangeness of khaki. “We are more interested in Burlington Coat Factory than Prada,” founding member Lauren Boyle told The New York Times in 2012.

Since then, both fashion and DIS have come a long way. High fashion is a whole lot less insular than it once was, and DIS is now a four-person collective that has evolved beyond the stylish world it loved to comment on. “I think that we were always interested in lifestyle, and fashion is certainly one element of lifestyle that’s undeniably powerful,” Boyle explains over the phone. “In the beginning, it was about emerging behaviors and emerging trends . . . I think we’re still interested in that, but we brought in more elements, so it’s not only about clothing.”

More recent projects have ranged from a Kim Kardashian West look-alike contest at the Museum of Modern Art to a library of surreal stock photography available on DIS’s website. The group’s latest endeavor might be its most strangely addictive yet: creating the campaign image for MoMA’s “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015” exhibit. It features Eurovision star Conchita Wurst standing at a Lucite podium against a bright blue background, clear teleprompters at her side, and the whole picture is watermarked with a MoMA logo front and center. The photograph can be seen in subway stations and on bus stops around New York City, often accompanied by a group of people staring at it with a blend of wonderment and confusion.

“The fact that they had their own stock imagery database and that they work with all the seductiveness and the tropes of fashion photography was very important for a marketing or advertising campaign for us,” explains the exhibition’s senior curator, Roxana Marcoci. “We were interested in what they were doing with the stock imagery, how they would take these images that were shot in a generic style, but then they would turn them around and bring in a twist.”

Even if DIS has left its pure fashion photography days behind, Marcoci notes that the collective, in addition to many other fine art photographers exhibited at MoMA—Wolfgang Tillmans, Cindy Sherman, Collier Schorr, Roe Ethridge, and Nan Goldin included—is establishing a new breed of image-making that is, perhaps, neither art nor fashion. “There are so many artists with whom we are working—and we’ve been exhibiting in various contexts—who blur this line between fashion photography and so-called fine art photography. I think that the beauty of these artists’ work is the porosity with which one infiltrates the other and informs the other and does something else, almost creates a new genre. It’s not one or the other. It’s not fine art and it’s not necessarily fashion. It can be both.”

Head to MoMA and see for yourself.

“Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art from November 7 through March 20, 2016.

STEFF YOTKA Vogue November 2015

3 Oct 2015

DIS :: Totally DISsed

A Post-Internet Art Collective is Out to Remake the World in Its Own Distorted Image