“Being: New Photography 2018” at the Museum of Modern Art offers a thought-provoking collection of works that challenges visitors to reassess what they are seeing — on MoMA walls and in the world — and is sure to spur discussion about identity in the broadest sense.
Some of the 17 artists, hailing from eight countries, frame the conversation through artifice or processing, others through perspective or models; some use text to draw viewers in and add meaning, while others use barriers to obfuscate and shut viewers out.
Lucy Gallun, assistant curator in the museum’s photography department, organized the show and told amNewYork that she looked for “approaches that seemed more personal or more intimate.”
“It’s a contemporary show of recent work and [so you start with], ‘What are some of the urgent issues that we haven’t been able to deal with and we really want to bring to the fore,’ ” she said, “and then as the group comes together it starts to get tighter.”
What emerged were many of the same themes that have been inescapable for the past 18 months while the exhibit was planned: immigration, individuality and empowerment.
Visitors receive a vibrant welcome from the Ethiopian artist Aïda Muluneh’s “All in One,” depicting a colorful multiplicity of identities.
The show is full of such striking encounters. Carmen Winant’s “My Birth” covers two walls with more than 2,000 found images of women in labor or giving birth. “Sin nombre” by Harold Mendez evokes thoughts of belonging and borders as its lone “nameless” horseman fords a river, at times almost dissolving into the silver bromide landscape.
American artists Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong address immigration so subtly it could be missed, interspersing photos of their mothers — both Vietnamese immigrants — with transcripts of Congressional hearings about Vietnamese refugees printed in almost imperceptible yellow type.
Works by Paul Mpagi Sepuya, whose self-portrait “Untitled” is quietly potent, and B. Ingrid Olson ask visually complex questions about individuality, unbalancing the viewer with skewed and contorted perspectives.
More conventional photos tackle identity solely in their models. Andrzej Steinbach’s serialized group portrait swaps roles revealing new insights.
Joanna Piotrowska’s Frowst series captures questions that have become part of our daily discourse: Is that a caress or coercion? Is she comfortable or compromising? Confronting these questions through art prompts us to contemplate similar ideas in our day-to-day lives.
‘Being: New Photography 2018’ is on display through August 19 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., moma.org