Toshio Shibata (Japanese, b. 1949). Shimogo Town, Fukushima Prefecture. 1990. Gelatin silver print, 17 1/2 × 21 13/16″ (44.4 × 55.4 cm). Geraldine J. Murphy Fund

Each fall for the past seven years New Photography has occupied a single gallery. This year New Photography 8 occupies four galleries, expanding the number of artists from three to eight, and accommodating large works, including Robert Flynt’s experiment in installation. The exhibition extends from the gallery for temporary exhibitions into three of the six galleries usually devoted to a survey of the history of photography drawn from the Collection. The first part of the survey, from the beginnings of photography to the early twentieth century, remains on view until January 5, 1993. In early February, all six Collection galleries will be reinstalled.

A grouping of eight artists may better suggest the variety of current work than a grouping of three, but New Photography 8 is not a survey of contemporary photography. (It is a coincidence that the eighth installment in the series includes the work of eight artists.) Other exhibitions aim to sum up, to draw connections, to interpret a trend. This one instead asks for patient attention to the achievement of the individual artist, whether or not it signals a trend.

Soon enough that attention will broaden, because no art can be understood in a vacuum. Among the eight separate bodies of work shown here, relationships and contrasts inevitably suggest themselves. For example, four of the artists—Ellen Brooks, Darrel Ellis, Dennis Farber, and Robert Flynt—make their pictures from other pictures, at least in part. The popularity of this strategy implies a widespread curiosity about the ways in which cultural values inhabit and survive in pictures; in each case the new work retains some of the flavor—and meaning—of the original image. But recognizing a common strategy also means noticing how differently it has been used: the bold anonymity of Ellen Brooks’s work underscores the intensely personal quality of Darrel Ellis’s family photographs—and vice versa. In short, the general returns us to the specific.

Gundula Schulze and Toshio Shibata each explore a distinct cultural sensibility, together suggesting the flexibility of photography’s descriptive vocabulary. Dieter Appelt and Mary Miss each employ the austere elegance of black-and-white to leap from the concrete to the metaphysical—one mapping time; the other, space. But these observations, and many others that might be pursued, are useful only if they sharpen our alertness to the particularity of each artist’s work. Otherwise, the work of art is merely a package, to be discarded once the meaning it contains is unwrapped.

Organized by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography.

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