The New Photography exhibition series—which Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, has called “a window on the Museum’s approach to photography”—has been an influential vehicle for acquisitions for three decades. In the first 10 years, work by artists such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia (1986), Paul Graham (1987), Boris Mikhailov (1993), Thomas Demand (1996), Rineke Dijkstra (1997), and Vik Muniz (1997) entered the collection for the first time when the artists were exhibited in New Photography, which, for many, was also their first showing at MoMA. Since then, the Museum has continued collecting these artists’ work, building on those first acquisitions to form ever-better representations of their careers.
In more recent years, New Photography has remained a vital part of MoMA’s contemporary acquisitions strategy, bringing into the collection works by Walead Beshty (2009), Alex Prager (2010), Moyra Davey (2011), Anne Collier (2012), and Lisa Oppenheim (2013), among many others. The most recent iteration of the series, Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, greatly expanded from past versions, contains three to nine times as many artists as in previous years. It has also provided opportunities for acquiring new work, and we have already added examples from five of the artists to MoMA’s collection.
In Shifting Degrees of Certainty, Israel-based artist Ilit Azoulay has created a visual archive of her experience of Germany, forming an incomplete and subjective map. During a residency in Berlin, she photographed sites and objects in various German cities and digitally combined them to form images that are arranged in what the artist has called a “brain.” Each piece is numbered and corresponds with an audio guide track that offers insight into the image, explaining the original structure and its context or the research Azoulay conducted.
For the creation of Shoe and Right Shoe, Lucas Blalock photographed a tabletop arrangement of newspaper, plastic soda yokes, and a mass-produced canvas bag. He then used a computer program to add lines to the image, so that it looks like the bottom of the bag has shoe treads. As he did here, Blalock often edits his photographs in intentionally obvious or clumsy ways, foregrounding the digital process as a component of image making. The resulting manipulations challenge the notion of the photograph’s purity, and remind viewers of the constructed nature of photography.
Natalie Czech’s translations of word into image and image into word take part in the avant-garde tradition of image-poem experimentation, which includes calligrams and Dada publications and performances. The properties of the poem that Czech works with come out in her manipulation of text—in the case of A Poem by Repetition by Aram Saroyan, a minimalist poem is created from the graphic treatment of a Pink Floyd LP cover.
MoMA has also acquired two photographic works by John Houck, Peg and Jon and Copper Mountain from the series A History of Graph Paper. Houck was trained as a computer programmer and often uses digital manipulation in his work, but in this series he put aside his editing abilities to return to a more traditional understanding of photography. These puzzle-like images only convey what appeared in front of his camera: all confusion is created by the artist in arrangement of the still life, not in a software program.
The final Ocean of Images work acquired in 2015 was Yuki Kimura’s KATSURA. The curators had first seen it in an installation at the 2012 São Paulo Biennial, and were taken with how the work investigated reconstituted space, and pushed beyond the boundaries of a traditional photograph into a three-dimensional experience.
The acquisition of these works is an important facet of MoMA’s engagement with recent art and, more specifically, with the protean nature of photography in contemporary art practices. The generosity of groups and funds such as the Committee on Photography, the Photography Council, and Fund for the Twenty-First Century have made these acquisitions possible, and their continued support insures that MoMA will maintain its commitment to collecting the work of important young and emerging artists of our time.