You’ve only got three days left to see what art critic Fredric Koeppel called “the most important exhibition of 20th century photography ever to appear” in Memphis.
“Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” is on display at the Brooks Museum of Art through Sunday. In his late October review, Koeppel wrote that the exhibit “contains extraordinary images and iconic photographs that require long and careful perusal. The shock of recognition is constant.”
No kidding. Though it’s vast and varied enough to serve as a de facto primer on photography as art, the exhibit, which contains roughly 150 pieces, is smartly organized thematically rather than chronologically, with seven rooms devoted to different types of photography. Some groups of photos are united by subject matter – objects, people, landscapes, city scenes. Others around approaches to the medium – work that abstracts its subjects or work that creates its subjects. Pieces range from the dawn of the 20th century (Alfred Stieglitz) to the past decade and, along the way, includes lots of artists that will be familiar to even those with only a casual knowledge of the medium, from the Dust Bowl images of Walker Evans to the portraiture of Diane Arbus to the detached Americana of Robert Frank to the groundbreaking color of Memphis’ William Eggleston to the provocative modern work of Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe.
But some of the most striking images came from photographers that were new names for me: An eerily beautiful selection (pictured above) from Adam Fuss’ “My Ghost” series. Roman Vishniac’s “The Only Flowers of Her Youth, Warsaw, Poland, 1939” and Helen Levitt’s “New York (Boys Fighting),” depictions of children in very different settings. Harold Edgerton’s early stop-action “Milk Drop Coronet.” I knew Laurie Simmons from the Lena Dunham film “Tiny Furniture” (Simmons is Dunham’s mother and plays a version of herself in the film) but had never seen her work. Her “Walking Gun, 1991,” a revolver perched on doll legs, is sexy, menacing, and sardonic all at once; a realization of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s aphorism about “a girl and a gun” as well as feminist commentary on it.
As Koeppel says, budget a couple of hours for “Shared Vision,” but try not to miss it.
The ‘Movies’ List: I brought back the weekly “Movies” segment on “The Chris Vernon Show” yesterday. The subject was con artist movies. You can listen to the segment here. The list: 1. “Paper Moon” (1973), 2. “Catch Me If You Can” (2002), 3. “The Lady Eve” (1941), 4. “The Sting” (1973), and 5. “House of Games” (1987). The most mentioned suggestion from listeners yesterday? The underrated Nicolas Cage flick “Matchstick Men.”
Final Rec: I promise not to overdo classic Hollywood in this space, though I love it so. But mentioning “The Lady Eve” on radio yesterday brought to mind one of my very favorite film scenes, which happens to be nicely presented on YouTube. In this Preston Sturges comedy, Henry Fonda is the heir to a massive beer fortune but only cares about the scientific study of snakes. Barbara Stanwyck is part of a father-and-daughter grifter tandem. They meet up on a cruise ship, where Stanwyck sizes Fonda up and decides that she needs him “like the ax needs the turkey.” In this scene, Stanwyck uses the mirror from her makeup kit to watch other women in the ship’s dining room make their play for Fonda’s attention, providing commentary (“Won’t do you any good, dear. He’s a bookworm, but swing ‘em anyway.”) and waiting for just the right moment to seize her prey. “The Lady Eve” is currently available on Netflix streaming.