Laurie Simmons, “Big Camera, Small Camera,” silver gelatin print, 1977
This was indeed a pivotal moment for art. Pictures Generation features women who entered the art world at levels equal in importance to their male counterparts for the first time. Often, they surpassed men in terms of invention and impact. Most of the women—Kruger, Levine, Lawler, Sherman, Charlesworth, Bloom and Laurie Simmons—worked with photographic imagery, partly because photography was still regarded as a bastard child of art. This was a field they could have pretty much to themselves, while gaining the support, rather than the envy, of the bad-boy painters around them.
“I turned to photography because I thought it was the dominant language of our culture,” says Charlesworth, who is represented in the show by photographs from her first two series of newspaper appropriation works, “Modern History” (1978) and “Stills” (1977). “I remember seeing Richard Prince’s first show at Anina Nosei and thinking, ‘Oh! This guy is interested in the same stuff I am,’” Charlesworth recalls. “Photography suited the things we wanted to address.”
Prince, the token male in the New York group, was taking a critical approach to appropriated photographs, most famously of the romantic Marlboro Man cowboy. But no man in the 1970s could have made Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80). Nearly a dozen works from the series are in the Met show. Here, Sherman presents female movie stereotypes with a caustic humor that mocks the way men fantasized about women, while giving women who internalize those stereotypes a sharp poke in the ribs.
Bloom remembers seeing Levine’s appropriated Walker Evans photos and thinking, “Oh my God, that is so radical and so insane. It was also brilliant. Sherrie didn’t address any of the esthetic issues, just narrowed it down to the most essential idea about what constitutes ownership of an image, and that was it.”
Read “Photo Play” in its entirety at the Art in America website
The Pictures Generation at the Met