Thursday, July 24, 2008

Excerpt From "Visions From America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art 1940-2001"

This excerpt is taken from Visions From America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art 1940-2001

A Medium No More (Or Less): Photography and the Transformation of Contemporary Art -- by Andy Grundberg

During the final fifty years of the century just past, contemporary art changed in so many crucial respects that if a reviewer had been cryogenically frozen in 1950 only to be thawed out in the year 2000, he or she would find most of the art we now enjoy to be incomprehensible. But one fact would be readily apparent to even the most discombobulated critic: where once contemporary art was synonymous with painting and sculpture, it now consists of a broad spectrum of media--foremost among them photography and its sister lens-based forms, film and video...In 1950 this was not the case; indeed, photography was virtually invisible. How did this transformation from stagehand to star take place, and why?

The question is not uncomplicated. The story of how photographs came to be an integral presence in the art world does not have a single, linear narrative. Nor is it accurate to say that two independent histories, one of photography and the other of art (read: painting and scultpure), came together at last. Rather, there are three interlinked narratives to consider, each of which has its own complexities. We might refer to these narratives, albeit approximately and crudely, as the history of photographers making art, the history of artists making photographs, and the history of hybridity in contemporary art....

Photographers Making Art
For photographers in the late 1940's and throughout the 1950's, the dominant aesthetic presence to emulate or rebel against was Alfred Stieglitz. Although Stieglitz died in 1946, after a lifetime of promoting photography and later American painting as significant forms of art, his legacy endured for at least two more decades....

Artists Making Photographs
...In 1962, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol began to make paintings by silk-screening photographic images onto canvas. In Rauschenberg's case, the method was akin to collage; he melded a variety of images onto a single canvas. Warhol took a more radical approach, repeating the same image in rows and columns...

Within the space of two decades, from 1970 to 1990, photography had been normalized as a medium for contemporary art. It had served the aims of artists as an instrument of conceptual, anti-material practices, as a cultural manifestation with its own intriguing metaphysical and semantic qualitites, and finally as a party to the investigation and so-called deconstruction of lens-based representation. In the course of this progression, photographs became valued objects in a newly expanded marketplace for art. This market grew in part as a consequence of the establishment of new support structures for photography: galleries that presented photographs as saleable artworks, museum departments of photography that collected and exhibited photographs...and new publications that served as information sources for collectors, critics, and curators.

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