What Is Photography
November 2nd, 2009 - New York, United States
I recently attended a number of different exhibitions of 20th century art in London - notably a Pop Art feature at the Tate Modern, and an Ed Ruscha retrospective at the Hayward Gallery - and the stand-out was definitely that dedicated to the work of John Baldessari, also currently at the Tate. I barely knew his work beforehand, but was taken by the playfulness in many of his pieces, and loved the way he played with the often ambivalent relationship between visual art and the written word.
The work that appears in this photograph is called "What Is Painting" - I've respected Baldessari's curious aversion to the question mark - and is on show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
I took a number of pictures of visitors interacting (or, for the most part, failing to interact) with this painting, and I hesitated between posting this image or one featuring a woman in a bright pink top visibly agonizing over the precise meaning of every word. But there was something about this girl, who can't have been more than ten or eleven, that captivated me. Like so many visitors to MoMA, she took photographs of almost every picture she saw - but unlike the vast majority, she examined each work before she photographed it, and spent time considering the most interesting angle from which to shoot it. On more than one occasion I wanted to whisper in her ear "Go, girl, go !!" - to encourage her to continue to engage with Art, to challenge it, to seek new meanings in it. But unfortunately, in this day and age, a fortysomething man cannot be seen to approach a pre-pubescent girl, however honest his intentions.
Please click here to view large.