The National performed the same song for six hours for this video, “A Lot of Sorrow.” Photo: Ragnar Kjartansson
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth has opened up a new exhibit, a photography and video called Framing Desire. It’s a huge show with 115 works by dozens of different artists, it also includes over 40 recent museum acquisitions. Curator Andrea Karnes joins Jeff Whittington to talk about it
There’s quite a range in the show, including 40 new acquisitions. Isn’t that kind of a big deal for the Modern?
AKIt is a big deal for the Modern. We started collecting photography before we moved into the new building, so that was over twelve years ago. Because we had other things on the agenda in the new building we kind of put photography on the side burner for the last decade. We really didn’t mean to do that, we want to collect photography and video, so knew it was high-time for another big push so we just wanted to do it in a big way. For example, we just purchased a work for the collection by Candida Höfer and she’s a part of the Dusseldorf School in Germany. We have every other photographer who’s a part of that school except we did not have her work, so we were kind of acknowledging, you know, holes in the collection in that sense with a few of the works. And then we also wanted to get some works that are considered historical anchors for fine art photography like the Larry Clark portfolio that we purchased. Just certain things that we really felt would be important to contextualize what we already have.
Now, you mention the photographs by Larry Clark, who folks may know as the director of the 1995 film “Kids.” These are some pretty rough images. Tell about them and why they appeal to you?
AKThe Larry Clark images depict Larry’s circle of friends at that time. He’s from Tulsa. So it was this dark portrayal of young adulthood because most of his friends and he, himself, were drug addicts at the time, so the images, are really brutal. They’re beautifully composed, they’re black and white. They’re really aestheticized, but really raw subject matter so in that sense they’re really hard to take. They’re unflinching looks at drug addiction.
At the other end of the gallery there’s a photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, who was influenced by Larry Clark.
AKYes, Larry Clark was highly influential to so many of the artists who come after him who used their circle of friends in their subject matter, including artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and also a younger example who is in the exhibition is Ryan McGinley. There are many other examples. So in that sense, Clark was so influential to generations to come that we felt it was very important to give context to our collection of photographs by including his works. Even though the subject matter is really dark and really tough.
So you included two North Texas artists in the show, tell us a little about them?
AKThe artists from North Texas are Misty Keasler and Allison V. Smith. These are two photographers whose work I have followed for several years, maybe even a decade. Maybe not that long for Allison, but have been interested in them and been watching what they do. I have done several studio vistits with Misty Keasler over the years and I was really waiting for the right moment. The moment we decided to focus on photography again, decided to present their works to the acquisition committee. I couldn’t be more happy to have them a part of the collection here, and I think the rest of the museum feels that way as well.
The Modern owns everything in this show, so you don’t have the headaches around borrowing pieces or convincing artists to appear in the show, I would assume. But what are the other challenges of pulling a big show like this together?
AKWell, the challenge is always giving every work in an exhibition enough space. Including things that may start a dialogue between each other. That’s why I wanted to give this exhibition a theme. Often when we show the permanent collection we just call it something like, “Selections From The Permanent Selection” which is a fine way to do it. We have an amazing collection. But I thought it might be kind of interesting to give this overall theme, or this umbrella theme, of desire. Just as a way to approach the works in the exhibition. Another line of thought, any of the works you see in this exhibition can be up again in the near future alongside paintings or sculptures, or other photographs that aren’t in this exhibition. We have many more photographs that I didn’t have room for unfortunately in this exhibition. There’ll be many permutations to come of the photographs and video in the collection. This was just one idea, and I wanted to make it strong and give each work a room to stand on its own.
I want you to describe the Candida Höfer piece that you have in the show because it’s a massive photograph, and there isn’t anybody in it.
AKWell, that’s the point. So, that photograph by Candida Höfer, it depicts a library in Florence, so it’s basically a place for knowledge and some of the works in that library, some of the books and manuscripts are handwritten manuscripts, illuminated manuscripts. And Höfer really wanted to make sure this straightforward portrait of the room using the natural light in the room, but in such a way that it’s like a portrait but without human presence. So it speaks to history, basically: the people who have been in that room, the history of knowledge, you know the history of human knowledge. So, that really is in a nut shell what she had in mind and it’s what she often does in her work.
Now there’s one piece which provides a cool sort of soundtrack for the first half of the exhibition. It includes a performance by a band called The National. This piece is actually by an Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson. What’s the story behind it?
AKRagnar is a combination videographer and performance artist, and he’s very interested in the idea of sadness and sorrow. So, Ragnar approached The National and asked them to do a marathon performance of that song, “Sorrow,” repeatedly, for six hours straight, in front of an audience. It also, you know, became a video which is the final form. I mean, I think of it as the artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s own desire to hear the song over and over on repeat because he can’t get enough of it. I also think of it as the band’s durational task of getting through that performance for six hours straight. And then the crowd’s desire to be a part of that performance and to cheer them on and be a part of a concert that lasts six hours where you only hear one song. Well, the piece is called A Lot of Sorrow, so there’s a little humor in there as well.