There are few photography shows in which you’ll find both an abstract photogram by James Welling and a picture of Marcel Duchamp in drag. Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum established its Department of Photographs in 1984. In commemoration of the collection nearing its 30th anniversary, as well as a variety of major recent acquisitions of contemporary photographs, comes “Convergences,” an exhibition presenting a variety of highlights from the collection, in which contemporary photographs are presented in conjunction with their historical antecedents.
In a series of 14 groupings, the exhibition aims to reveal the nuances of the Getty’s photography collection, showing points of overlap between contemporary works that were recently acquired and the collection’s older historical holdings. “The idea of convergences provides a framework with which to think about how images made at different times and with different aesthetic motivations can be in conversation with one another,” says Virginia Heckert, the museum’s photographic curator. The following three groupings highlight the diversity of the Getty’s collection, while exemplifying the exhibition’s thesis.
Ralston Crawford, who was both a photographer and a painter, depicted the sacred geometry of the industrial landscape. “Convergences” pairs Crawford’s photograph of bridge girders with a contemporary counterpart, James Welling’s New Abstraction #71 (2000), which shows nothing inherently architectural but is, rather, a photogram, produced by placing pieces of mat board directly onto high-sensitivity film. Crawford’s piece is realistic, while Welling’s is a cameraless abstraction. Despite being so different in process, the images are united by a common aesthetic.
In a convergence that is both visual and art historical, Man Ray’s photographs of Marcel Duchamp’s spoofed Mona Lisa (reading LHOOQ, which when pronounced in French and translated as “elle a chaud au cul,” sounds like “She has a hot ass”), as well as his female alter-ego Rrose Sélavy, are seen alongside Yasumasa Morimura’s staged reproduction, in which the artist becomes the barmaid of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882). Both artists, in this case, use photography to channel their creative energy, riffing on iconic works and commenting on the role that the female figure has played in art history.
Modern portrait pioneer August Sander’s photograph of two country girls shares a clear stylistic similarity with Loretta Lux’s depiction of twins. The missing link of influence here is Diane Arbus, whose famous photo of twins standing side-by-side echoes Sander, who once said, “Every person’s story is written plainly on his face, though not everyone can read it.” The lineage continues to Loretta Lux, who appears to draw influence from both Arbus and Sander, though her main focus is depicting childhood rather than country life or urban fringe figures.
The art of photography varies in its technique and execution, but all photographs are united under the fact that they depict the same world, the same set of natural and artificial circumstances that make up visual experience. “Convergences” reminds us of the constant historical dialogue photographers engage in, as well as the way the medium unveils the beautiful details so often overlooked in day-to-day life.
“Convergences” is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, July 8th – Oct. 19th