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Cindy Sherman. Untitled #279. 1993. Chromogenic color print © 2004 Cindy Sherman

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Exhibition: Fashioning Fiction in Photography since 1990

About the Exhibition: First MoMa exhibition devoted exclusively to fashion photography on view at MoMa Queens. Exhibition focuses on influences of cinema and the snapshot on fashion photography, On view from April 16-June 28, 2004 MoMA QNS, The Museum of Modern Art, Queens, New York. Photo above Steven Meisel. Untitled from "The Good Life," Vogue Italia, October 1997. Chromogenic color print (Ektacolor) © 2004 Steven Meisel.

Before entering into any discussion of the work in the Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibition “Fashioning Fiction in Photography since 1990,” a couple of things perhaps ought be said. First, the art world has been notoriously afflicted with an allergy to fashion; art, famously full of itself, historically fancies its domain as one fixated not only on esthetics but also content. Deep ideas. No patience at all for the petty, air-headed, surface-level beauty that preoccupies fashion. Secondly, as cultural establishments go, The Museum of Modern art tends to take itself extremely seriously; so seriously that it was, in fact, only in 1976 that the institution deigned to host the color photography of William Eggleston as art proper. To many, the decision was a scandal. Art, as the backward-thinking majority argued, requires craft. Art, they contended, depends on genius, talent and rarity— not just any schmo’s ability to point a camera, press a button and print however many multiples they liked. Never mind how thoughtful, nicely printed or well-composed an image.

Glen Luchford. Untitled from Prada advertising campaign, Fall/Winter 1997. Chromogenic color print © 2004 Glen Luchford
Times, as they thankfully tend to do, have changed. With next to no complaint from art snobs and attention from heavy-hitting intellectuals like Columbia University professor Rosalind Krauss in The New York Times, Susan Kismaric and Eva Respini—respectively Curator and Assistant Curator at MoMA—have gathered 95 photographs from thirteen shutterbugs that worked on commission to create work for fashion spreads or mass-market advertisements. W, Vogue Italia, Harper’s Bazaar, Talk and Another Magazine number among the publications that solicited the work on view.

Philip-Lorca di Corcia. Untitled from "Cuba Libre," W, March 2000. Chromogenic color print © 2004 Philip-Lorca diCorcia
The first thing that pops out about the work in “Fashioning Fiction” is that it’s a little, if not a lot, perverse. Philip-Lorca deCorcia, for instance, offers up images that glamorize third-world gangsters. One shows a gorgeous, luxuriously dressed woman who seems to be making a prison visit, waiting on a bench next to an elderly, underprivileged receptionist in uniform behind bars. Another shot of deCorcia’s portrays a round table of brown-skinned, suit-wearing gentlemen convening in a smoky lounge. Their power comes across as tantalizingly nefarious. Glen Luchford, on the other hand, brings out the best in a pair of burgundy stilettos by portraying them on the feet of a woman lying prone on a nighttime lawn, either dead or passed out.
Juergen Teller. The Clients, Haute Couture: France Goldman, Paris. 1999. Chromogenic color print © 2004 Juergen Teller
Nan Goldin contributes a print of a woman in a transparent, black-lace catsuit, flat on her back and gripping the ledge of a concrete sauna bench. Mario Sorrenti’s vision involves a scrappy street urchin sitting in a wheelchair in front of a window, looking onto a city while taking a bong hit in a small, graffiti-covered room. Jüergen Teller stands out from the crowd by turning his lens onto the carefully coiffed, Botox-injected consumers who can afford to buy the haute couture that his edgy photographs often sell, elegantly exposing the prudishness and self-loathing of the bourgeoisie. With or without meaning to, fashion’s bottomless appetite for the cutting edge appears to have gotten so smart that it’s seduced art—also allergic to the likes of cinema, technology, consumer and youth culture—into wondering about its own limitations.

-Sarah Valdez

Sarah Valdez is an associate editor at Artnews Magazine and a conrtibutor to Paper Magazine. She lives in New York City. Read her other recent reviews: Gilles Bensimon Photography: No Particular Order Richard Avedon Exhibition; Herman Landshoff Exhibition at F.I.T.; First Assistants Show; Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed exhibition at the Costume Institute and the Guy Bourdin photo exhibition at the Pace/MacGill Gallery.

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