In 1959, MoMA launched the exhibition New Images of Man, a show that combined a disparate and imaginative body of works that brought together a group of artists grappling with the human condition and with new modes of representation in painting and sculpture in the wake of the Second World War. Returning to this subject matter for a new show exploring both the original exhibition and its echoes through culture in the following sixty years, Blum & Poe Los Angeles has mounted a new take, part homage, part radical revision, that spans two floors in the gallery and reconstitutes emblematic figures from the original MoMA line up of artists alongside artists from this era and beyond to re-examine its motivations and impact.
The show, featuring forty-three artists from around the globe, seeks to overcome the myopic, at times misogynist viewpoints of the late 50’s, and to expand its scope to span the world. Voices overlooked by curator Peter Selz in the original show, Carol Rama or Lee Lozano, for instance, are presented here and welcomed into the conversation, courtesy an expanded vision from organizer Alison Gingeras. As the capstone to this historical proposition, the show pushes for the contemporary resonance of the same disquietude and turbulence presented in the original show, but turns the concept outwards towards broader societal and cultural conditions.
Embedded at the center of this revisionist enterprise is another historical MoMA exhibition also founded upon postwar humanism: photography. The 1955 exhibition Family of Man curated by Edward Steichen—the legendary director of the Photography Department at MoMA—was conceived four years before New Images of Man, and was devised as a celebration of the camera as a powerful, immersive tool for the promulgation of images as well as the affirmation of the universal human experience. Taken together, the dual operations of this program, where photography and painting collide along the axis of a shared perspective on the modern condition and the experiences of its subjects. Works by Deana Lawson are hung alongside those by Zofia Rydet, spanning historical epochs and cultural systems while showcasing the shared documentary and critical forms that underscore their respective artistic projects and shared language.
While much has changed in social and political terms since the 1950s, we find ourselves once again at a point of critical examination, a questioning of the rights and responsibilities of humanity to itself and to the world, and just how we might imagine a shared space to understand and examine these challenging questions. What we do next remains the question posed by the show’s impressive system of concatenations.
The show closes March 14th.
— D. Creahan
Blum and Poe [Exhibition Site]