During our most recent Art Safari to the vast and spectacular Met, we were thrilled by Fatal Attraction, an exhibit of photography from the New York–based artist Piotr Uklański (born Poland, 1968). This exhibition, the first to survey Uklański’s photography, locates his work with the camera at the center of his artistic practice. Reveling in moribund or marginal artistic languages from a position at once ironic and sincere, the artist simultaneously subverts and pays homage to defunct modes of expression.
Uklański’s underappreciated yet historically significant series The Joy of Photography (1997–2007) explores clichés of popular photography using the kitschy subjects and hackneyed effects of Eastman Kodak’s how-to manual for the serious amateur.
Whereas artists of the 1980s, such as Richard Prince, appropriated such images by rephotographing them to reveal their constructed nature, Uklański remade them, in a manner akin to slightly irreverent cover versions of songs that bring out hidden or repressed aspects of his source material.
In this way, the artist both acknowledges appropriation’s endgame — that there are no new pictures under the sun — while creating a space for the creation of new works.
As an example, here is a blurb from the exhibit that accompanies this photograph of a Waterfall.
“As a photographic subject, the waterfall is so ubiquitous that it is invisible – a natural form that has been subsumed into an image via millions of snapshot mementos, postcards, and artistic renderings. Instead of looking for the impossible – a “new” picture of a waterfall – Uklanski presents the viewer with a dutifully exact representation of the camera’s capabilities as prescribed by Eastman Kodak – until the 1980s, as powerful a shaper of how Americans saw the world as Disney or any presidency. In conflating the roles of the amateur, professional and fine artist, Uklanski was also commenting, ironically – from a European perspective – on how Americans can turn even leisure activities into forms of work and self-improvement.”
Fatal Attraction: Photographs by Piotr Uklański, will be on Exhibit Through August 16th, 2015 in Gallery 851, 2nd Floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Located at 1000 Fifth Ave at 81st Street, New York, NY.