Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Art of Caring at NOMA


I had approached it with trepidation. The New Orleans Museum of Art's THE ART OF CARING: A LOOK AT LIFE THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY was obviously put together with good intentions and a roster of great photographers, but could it really live up to its promise? Or would it simply be one of those institutional efforts that we are supposed to find deep and moving but which can also seem two- dimensional? Perhaps because of its variety, CARING escapes that fate–it is actually entertaining and quirky, as well as touching, thoughtful and beautifully executed. In fact, it is really a great show.

Assembled for NOMA by independent curator Cynthia Goodman, it features over 200 photographs intended to “explore the moments that shape our being.” Divided into seven sections ranging from LOVE and CHILDREN to AGING and REMEMBERING, it is very thorough. But unlike typical documentary exhibitions, CARING blends classic photo-reportage by legendary news photographers like Alfred Eisenstadt and W. Eugene Smith with the work of way more whimsical artists such as Arthur Tress, Sally Mann and Nan Goldin, among others. The result is often ironic as well as colorfully compassionate.

Annie Leibovitz sets the tone with a portrait of an elderly man. Look again, and it’s William Burroughs looking ancient at age 80, and here a stock geriatric shot suddenly seems much more complex. Another old guy appears with a cute little girl in Marco van Duyvendijk’s EAGLE KEEPER AND GRANDDAUGHTER, MONGOLIA, an unusual take on the familiar generational contrast theme. Joel Myerowitz’ ELEMENTS illustrates WELLNESS in an underwater view of a woman diving in a graceful arc, only here it’s displayed upside down so she seems to be flying upward in a surge of bubbles. Albert Chong’s AUNT WINNIE is elegiac, a black and white view of a woman enshrined in brilliantly colored flora. Like the rest, it embodies the timeless cycles that comprise the essential and ineluctable nature of life on this earth. ~Eric Bookhardt


The Art of Caring: A Look at Life through Photography
Through Oct. 11
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org

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