Monday, August 06, 2012

See This: "Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective"

The Guggenheim Museum in New York right now has an extraordinary exhibit called "Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective." Ms. Dijkstra is a Dutch photographer who takes large-format pictures of human beings at moments of change and transition, and their humanity is so much on display, so rich and beautiful and specific and true, that these single images feel like entire character studies. She specializes in pictures of children and teenagers, like this one above. . . . The instability of the way this boy is standing, his slightness and off-centeredness; the vulnerability established by his near-nakedness and his size vs. the endless sea behind him; his watchful gaze, not fully trusting or warming to the photographer -- and rightly, as she's caught so much of him; and the promise of the man inside him, learning how to look strong, how much of himself he should give away:  I find this image (and nearly every other picture in the show) both wonderful and heartbreaking in its ability to see and capture all of that. I want to read novels about all of her people.

The show included five video installations that likewise focus on individuals, in locations ranging from a dance club to an art museum, against simple backgrounds, so their actions and words speak for themselves. This one, for instance, "Ruth Drawing Picasso," was nearly six minutes of a single shot of a girl making her own sketch of a Picasso painting (this visitor-shot excerpt is just 42 seconds):

And as boring as that may sound, the film kept me fascinated for all six minutes, simply because it felt so wonderfully rare and fresh to do nothing but look at another human being for a sustained period of time, as Ms. Dijkstra does. More than that, Ruth doesn't seem self-conscious about being watched, as many of the kids in the dance-club videos do (and as I always do on camera); she sighs, draws a line, scratches it out, gropes for a pencil, looks around at her friends, looks up at the painting and down at her paper again, draws another line. . . . It's such an honest portrait of the creative process, and of a human being in general, that I felt my heart warm toward Ruth for all of her particularities, including those I recognized in myself. Thus the exhibition did what the best art (to me) always does:  It made me love the world more, and the people in it, in all of our vulnerable, pained, ephemeral glory, and made me feel thankful we're all here together -- with Ms. Dijkstra and her camera to capture us.

At the Guggenheim, Fifth Avenue and 89th St., through October 8.

1 comment:

  1. When I look back at my year, I'm certain that I will still call Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at the Guggenheim one of the best museum shows of the entire year. The artful awkwardness was certainly worth the admission price of the Guggenheim and I would encourage everyone to go to this wonderful exhibit before it closes on October 8.