D.ie woman crouches on a stool and shows her bared back. She is not quite as exposed as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ “Little Bathers” in his painting of a harem from 1826, and it is also not a white woman who Ayana V. Jackson poses, but a black woman. With the studio photography on the catalog cover, the tone is set for an opulent picture show in the Sprengelmuseum Hannover. The North American photographic art of the past forty years is to be narrated as a “previously not written chapter of a picture form” and added to art history: “True Pictures?”
American photography in the twentieth century is commonly associated with street and straight photography, the confrontation with life as it appears on the street, with Walker Evans, about whom Svetlana Alpers has just presented a brilliant biography, the Swiss Robert Frank and his epochal book “The Americans”, with William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and color photography. By contrast, around 1980 a time dawned in which artistic photography was completely redefined, especially in New York and Vancouver. Cindy Sherman stages herself in fictional film stills as the protagonist of countless films that have never been made. Richard Prince photographs the Marlboro man from the cigarette advertisement and sells the lonely cowboy, without any lettering, as his own picture.
Sherrie Levine is even bolder: she reproduces icons of photo history one-to-one, as if there had never been such a thing as copyright; After all, Louise Lawler photographs art on the walls of collectors and turns pictures into pictures. In Canada, Jeff Wall cites art historical models in painting in large photos and presents them in light boxes in urban advertising. “There is always a different picture under every picture,” commented critic Douglas Crimp.
In 1979, Crimp laconically called an essay “Pictures” that was to prove unusually influential – just like the exhibition he curated in New York’s Artists Space. The clairvoyant critic, who was to push later topics such as AIDS and queer identity to the fore as topics of contemporary art, analyzed the use of images from the mass media and thus made an early contribution to the theory of postmodernism. There has been talk of a “Pictures Generation” whose production spanned all artistic genres, with the photo playing a key role.
This paradigm shift takes “True Pictures?” As its starting point. The truth in the photographs of the panoramas set up by Stefan Gronert and Benedikt Fahrnschon is for the most part arranged, formulated and pointed in the studio, the documentary approach is just one of many. It can also be striking, as in the large formats by Martine Gutierrez about gender identity and hierarchy. In a conceptual spirit, the photographers reflect their own genre and close the new technological possibilities. In this way, the exhibition shows how photography, after a long historical lead-up, is finally absorbed in contemporary art. Many authors of this show would rather name artist than photographer as a job title.