Pictures, Revisited Reexamines the Art of Visual Appropriation Chronicled in the Museum’s Landmark 2009 Exhibition The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984
Suzy Lake (American-Canadian, b. 1947). Miss Chatelaine, 1973. Gelatin silver print, 1996, 8 3/4 × 8 13/16 in. (22.3 × 22.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2017 (2017.334). © Suzy Lake
Now on view, Pictures, Revisited takes a deep dive into The Met’s rich collection of contemporary photography to explore photographic strategies of visual appropriation. The show’s 29 works are comprised of images snipped from magazines, staged, or copied outright from other artworks. Drawing equally from pop culture and art history, the featured artists manipulate familiar photographs, ads, logos, and tropes, decontextualizing and reusing the imagery in their work.
On the occasion of the Museum’s 150th anniversary, Pictures, Revisited provocatively expands on The Met’s landmark 2009 exhibition The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984, which was the first major museum initiative to trace the art of appropriation through a complex network of practitioners, including Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, and Louise Lawler. These colleagues, collaborators, and sometime classmates used appropriation to upend traditional notions of authorship and originality.
Pictures, Revisited looks anew at the art of appropriation in an expanded field. Of the group of American artists featured in The Pictures Generation, five are represented in this show. They appear alongside key predecessors and contemporaries as well as younger artists for whom the “Pictures” aesthetic is a formative influence. Looking beyond the personal and professional relationships that informed the 2009 exhibition, Pictures, Revisited presents these artists in new constellations and comparative frameworks. An iconic film still starring Cindy Sherman as the ingénue of an imaginary noir will be seen together with earlier photo projects by Suzy Lake and David Lamelas in which the artists reinvent themselves in the image of gendered media types. An archival collage work by Annette Messager will likewise keep company with subsequent studies in collecting: among them, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s exhaustive digital index of scenes from “Starsky & Hutch,” and Leslie Hewitt’s cerebral still life assembled from found ephemera and books.
Many artists in the show deconstruct the systems and syntax of art history. Among the exhibition’s highlights is a series of posters purchased from The Met Store and then wryly reinterpreted by Andrea Fraser. Other artists take on Modernist masters in the collection—Sarah Charlesworth shatters Gerrit Rietveld’s famous chair into photographic fragments, and Lorna Simpson distills James Van Der Zee’s Harlem Renaissance portraits into an elegiac series of studio props.
The 2009 exhibition marked new collecting initiatives at The Met, and in the years since, the Department of Photographs has continued to acquire major works by “Pictures” artists and their peers. The show features many such acquisitions, including photographs by Barbara Kruger, Hank Willis Thomas, and Mike Kelley. These are among many works never before exhibited at The Met, as are stunning pieces by Piotr Uklański, Steve Wolfe, and Adam McEwen, given to the Museum in celebration of its 150th anniversary.
Seen together, the works in Pictures, Revisited offer an antidote to the anxiety of influence—the fear that there is nothing new under the sun. In a world increasingly mediated by images, this exhibition suggests that there is no such thing as an original picture.
Pictures, Revisited is curated by Douglas Eklund, Curator, and Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.