When visiting a museum, I like to be left alone so it’s just me and the photographs (or whatever works of art I’m studying).
Yet when I recently visited the “For Freedoms: Where Do We Go From Here?” exhibition at International Center of Photography in New York (which opened in February and runs through April 28) there was a conspicuous difference about the show. In the middle of the somewhat busy-looking, infographics-driven exhibition, you’ll find a group of members from the For Freedoms collective, which helped create this show and is a non-partisan group of civic-minded artists and citizens interested civic engagement, discourse and direct action. You don’t have to talk to them. But they’re there to engage with you and answer questions.
According to the group’s website, the collective was “founded in 2016 by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman…and inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear…” The group’s aim is, in part, to be “a nexus between art, politics, commerce, and education.” Certainly, a very worthy, even lofty goal.
At first, I ignored the members of the collective. But at some point I decided to chat with them, and learn a bit about what they do.
Not surprisingly, one of the highlights of this show is the pairing of lithograph posters of the four iconic Norman Rockwell paintings with the re-interpreted images, which were painstakingly photographed by Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur—who are also members of For Freedoms. In the re-interpretations (four are shown in this blogpost), the photographers (as well as others involved in the project) strove to present a more inclusive representation of the nation. Moreover, the images depict celebrities, such as actor and activist Rosario Dawson, actor Michael Ealy and news commentator and author Van Jones, among others. (For a closer look at how photographer Emily Shur re-imagined and re-created Rockwell’s paintings, check out “Reverse Engineering Norman Rockwell” by Holly Stuart Hughes on PDNOnline .
The photos are carefully composed and produced, but I feel they’re a bit stiff. But then again, they were re-creating Rockwell paintings.
What’s ironic, at least for me, is that the most moving part of the show was discussing the works and projects with the members of the For Freedoms collective! I guess on some level it gives me hope that there are still those who want to engage in active, public political discussions on a grass-roots level, instead of anonymously posting diatribes on the internet. Which is why, despite some of my reservations about the aesthetics of the show, I believe it’s an exhibition worth seeing.
For more on the show, go to: icp.org/exhibitions/for-freedoms-where-do-we-go-from-here
If you can’t get to the ICP’s “For Freedoms” exhibition, here’s a select group of other interesting and inspiring fine-art photography exhibitions taking place around the U.S:
- “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through May 12, 2019. The exhibition focuses on the powerful and poetic photographs of this celebrated Mexican photographer and features roughly 125 of her photographs, spanning her five-decade-long career. For more, go to: mfa.org/exhibitions/graciela-iturbides-mexico
- “Annie Leibovitz. The Early Years, 1970–1983: Archive Project No. 1”, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, through April 14, 2019. The show presents more than 4,000 photographs by the well-known celebrity and editorial portraitist in a large, sprawling show, before the photographer, herself, became synonymous with fame and stardom. For more, go to: hauserwirth.com/hauser-wirth-exhibitions/23121-annie-leibovitz-early-years-1970-1983
- “Out of the Box: Camera-less Photography”, The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, through June 18, 2019. This show states that right from the start, “artists have experimented with ways to record images without the use of a conventional camera apparatus” and presents photographers from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including William Henry Fox Talbot, Man Ray, Robert Heinecken, Ellen Carey, Adam Fuss and Christopher Bucklow. For more, go to norton.org/exhibitions/out-of-the-box