Is “Photography” Just A Smack In The Face?

Stop me if this sounds familiar: a series of carefully curated personal snapshots and artistic attempts, perhaps interesting merely because of the significance of the snapper. Instagram, anyone? Flickr? Facebook, Twitter, MySpace? Until February 16th you can add Galerie Deschler to that list while they present a collection of renowned Berlin painter and sculptor Rainer Fetting’s personal photographs.


A Little Context


Before I editorialize about the merit of this kind of a show, let’s get some context. The artist as archivist has a long history in contemporary art. There is a fantastic Gilbert and George documentary focusing on literally thousands of their old snapshots. Paul McCarthy (who you will all know I admire if you read my recent homage to “Santa with Buttplug”) curated a fantastic show of his own archive and work he admires at CCA, and Kiki Smith is currently presenting a large body of personal photographs at galleries throughout Europe.


I’ll gladly check out Kiki Smith’s shots of her kittens on the dinner table, and I’m absolutely going to show up to see Gilbert and George’s polaroids of poo. However, I would expect to show up for this kind of work at a blog or graffitied-up punk bar, not an A-List gallery on Augustrasse. And so, I hope you’re asking—what about the photos? Do they merit a gallery show?


Worth a Show? 


Honestly, I’m not sure. There are quite a few blurry shots of taxi cabs, and trite New York nights with streams of neon and blurry headlights (think Ed Ruscha meets Ryan McGinley). Then, there are the self-portraits (also mostly blurry) and the sexy, S-and-M-y snap-shots of friends and acquaintances (Helmut Newton meets Robert Mapplethorpe).


Although I hate to admit it, I often waste countless hours flipping through pictures of even my most far-flung acquaintances on Facebook. Hell, I’ll even read the occasional celebrity blog, but there is something about looking through snapshots of complete strangers that is just staggeringly dull. With a little context provided by the gallery, I can easily become fascinated by the artist and a friend in cab on the way to see Warhol, or the first Russian to be granted political asylum in the US due to his homosexuality reclining nude in a hockey mask, but without this context the show becomes yet another exercise in narcissistic over-sharing.


Twitter: A Superior Avenue?


While the archive is undeniably essential, as either an artistic tool or fodder for art historical research, in an age where I have access to literally thousands of photographs of Kim Kardashian’s cat, my third cousin’s garden, and far too much soft-core porn of the “self-portrait” variety, I have to ask: is there any artistic merit left in the “artist-as-personal-archivist” show when the work is of such questionable quality? I mean, come on, if we cared we’d be following you in twitter, right?


  • Galerie Deschler – Rainier Fetting “Photography” – January 5, 2013 – February 2, 2013, Tues to Fri, 11-6pm and Sat 11-4pm [Price range of works: €1,500 – €55,000]
Article by Hannah Nelson-Teutsch