Sunday, November 23, 2008

Postmodern Profundity? McDermott and McGough "An Experiment of Amusing Chemistry"

As a fan and defender of the artistic and conceptual significance of Mike and Doug Starn's photography, I was enthusiastic about the recent exhibition of photographs by McDermott and McGough at the Musée Européenne de la Photographie. However, despite the fact that the pair are celebrated by the contemporary art world, and have been for some time, I didn't see any great insights in these works. Many of them are aesthetically pleasing photographs, especially with the wealth of colors made possible through the nineteenth century processing techniques - witness, for example, the four different colored versions of The Last Supper. However, what was unclear to me was what the deeper significance of this work might be. There is a lot of quotation and appropriation of nineteenth century technique, as well as nineteenth century photographs themselves. Are these photographs then a case of postmodern pastiche at its best, and thus, its worst?

Some of the Bichromate Gum prints are interesting for their painterly appearance, which maybe warrants thinking about the images as blurring the lines between painting and photography. But again, it is still unclear as to what the larger point is

The final room of the exhibition is the most interesting: inspired by the book, Les Récréatinos Scientifiques by Gaston Tissaudier, (1881), the recrete and photograph magical scientific experiments from the book. These photographs are more interesting because of the association of the photograph with magic tricks at this time in the nineteenth century. It was a moment when science, art and magic all came together to create visions of awe and wonder. However, this euphoria a moment of innovation from the past, does not seem to be the concern of the photographers. Critics insist that they are continually challenging the lines between the performance of the past and the everyday of the present. However, I am still left wanting more, for example, to know what of the capacity of photography to travel through time, both backwards and forwards?

So I would say, skip the McDermott and McGough, and go down to the basement to see Mutations II/Moving Stills - way more provocative and interesting.

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