Unsettled: Photography & Politics

Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Julien Levy Gallery
April 9 - Summer 2011

The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art, with work by nine artists who used photography to address issues of race, sex, gender, religion and politics during the 1970's through the early 1990's. An historical overview of often highly controversial subject matter and notoriously branded artists, the exhibit attempts to create an open discussion as to why much of this art work remains contentious to the present day. ( A comment book is prominently displayed in the gallery for visitors to leave written responses.)

Artists in the exhibit are  Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, Lorna SimpsonNan GoldinZoe LeonardDavid Wojnarowicz ,Carrie Mae Weems, and Babara Kruger.

We will no longer be seen and not heard,  Barbara Kruger
There is plenty to see in this relatively small show, and even wall placement choices will likely raise questions and/or test the comfort levels of some visitors. The highly objectifying work of a Mapplethorpe sculptural black male nude directly across the room from Weem's Honey Colored Boy, with both of these photographs flanked on the side wall by Serrano's Klansman image.

Honey Colored Boy,  Carrie Mae Weems

Klansman (Great Titan of the Invisible Empire), Andres Serrano

Serrano is better known for his 1987 photograph Piss Christ, which raised a firestorm similar to the recent hotly debated issue surrounding the removal of a 1987 David Wojnarowicz film from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Wojnarowicz event was the impetus for creating this exhibit in Philadelphia. Exhibit curator Peter Barbarie stressed during the preview that this exhibit is not meant to offend, but to open up and continue the conversation surrounding these topics.

Sex Series,  David Wojnarowicz

Wojnarowicz's work features prominently in the exhibit, which includes six images from his late 1980's Sex Series. The grainy black and white works consist of montages of appropriated images and text ranging from city scenes, landscapes,  dwellings, and typewritten letters, combined with moon-like circles containing microscope views of blood cells, random stock imagery and pornography. The work is both intensely angry and hauntingly beautiful.

Untitled (Typewritten Letter), 1988-89. David Wojnarowicz
Image Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 Untitled (New York Bridges with Text), 1988-89. David Wojnarowicz
Image Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 This important and very timely exhibit opened on April 9th and runs through the Summer. Absorb these works with an open mind and add your two cents to the comment book

Related links:

Exhibit Details for Unsettled: Photography & Politics in Contemporary Art

Andres Serrano

David Wojnarowicz

Carrie Mae Weems