Review of reviews: Art
Exhibit of the week
Museum of Modern Art, New York City, through May 28
“It would seem, in this age of Instagram, that we are all picture makers in the Stephen Shore mold,” said Barbara Pollack in Hyperallergic.com. Like Shore, a 70-year-old New York City native who’s well known in his field but little known outside of it, we are all inspired to photograph our meals and other commonplaces, then share the images with the world. But Shore, who’s had more than 50 years of practice at this sort of thing, brings more to the game. Some 500 of his photographs currently hang in a massive retrospective at MoMA, and “while ‘beauty’ would be a misnomer for most of the images,” it’d hard to deny their “visual catchiness.” More important than Shore’s eye for composition, though, is his ability to erase ego from his picture making. “For most people on Instagram, the photograph is a servant to likability.” For Shore, a photo is a pure invitation to look.
Shore, who was given his first darkroom at 6, “bloomed into his calling like a hothouse orchid,” said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. He was just 14 when he sold three of his prints to MoMA, and he dropped out of high school in 1965 to hang out with the Andy Warhol crowd. But he accumulated mentors and soon hit the road to start producing the series that cemented his reputation. “Unexpected beauty unsettles,” and Shore found it again and again—in a pancake breakfast on a Formica table or in a tall cactus standing beside a phone booth. Whereas many artists critique the world around them or at least betray “anxiety in the face of the real,” Shore’s work exhibits “an easeful acceptance” of the world as it is. “He delivers truths, whether hard or easy, with something very like mercy.”
Shore’s 1970s work was radical in its time, said Jason Farago in The New York Times. Color photography itself was frowned upon by the establishment, and the “diaristic plainness” of Shore’s images defied the tradition that demanded every great photograph capture a so-called decisive moment. Nearly five decades after Shore used a Mickey Mouse camera to produce the photos for a gallery show in SoHo, he now mostly uses his iPhone and posts the results on Instagram himself. “Am I revealing myself as some hopeless Luddite when I say that I regret Shore’s fifth-act decision to, as the kids say, ‘Do it for the ’gram?’” Possibly. But every image posted on Instagram is inescapably swallowed up into a Mark Zuckerberg–owned conversation among followers, whereas Shore’s long career has been an argument that a photograph should be allowed this: to “have no function than to be itself.” ■