The Morgan Library and Museum has received much favorable attention in recent years for its drawings-focused and literary exhibitions. But in March 2012, the institution named Joel Smith its first ever curator of photography, and now, nearly two years later, it will open its first exhibition organized by the new department.
The format of the show, titled A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play, is something of a surprise: rather than focus one artist, period, or collector, Smith has selected 85 works that range across time, style, and usage — “from folk art to Conceptual art and from astronomy to law enforcement,” the press release says — and arranged them in a chain of visual and conceptual connection. Each picture is thus tied in some way to those on its left and right — two examples of rock art, for instance, or trapezoidal forms that echo from one photograph to the next. The Morgan’s press release compares the arrangement to the flow of images on the internet.
It remains to be seen what exactly viewers can glean from such a show — whether there’s more on offer than simply a crowd-pleasing visual puzzle. But I did find that, unconnected to any physical exhibition and scrolling through a selection of images in my inbox, the photographs seemed pleasantly open. Some connections between them were obvious; others came to me upon a second or third viewing, feeling more latent, more exciting, more potent.
Below are a number of the photographs included in A Collective Invention. I’ve arranged them in my own way, channeling the spirit of the show, but I’ll be curious to see where each ends up at the Morgan.
Protesters were challenged by disgruntled museumgoers, youth organizers performed a Dabka, and activists gave impassioned speeches about Whitney vice chair Warren Kanders’s association with Palestine through weapons companies.