Since the birth of photography in 1839, artists have used the medium to explore subjects close to home—the quotidian, intimate, and overlooked aspects of everyday existence. Everyday Epiphanies: Photography and Daily Life Since 1969, an exhibition of 40 works at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, presents photographs and videos from the last four decades that examine these ordinary moments. The exhibition features photographs by a wide range of artists including John Baldessari, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Fischli & Weiss, Jan Groover, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Elizabeth McAlpine, Gabriel Orozco, David Salle, Robert Smithson, Stephen Shore, and William Wegman, as well as videos by Martha Rosler, Ilene Segalove, Brandon Lattu, and Svetlana and Igor Kopytiansky.
Daily life, as it had been lived in Western Europe and America since the 1950s, was called into question in the late 1960s by a counterculture that rebelled against the prior “cookie-cutter” lifestyle. Everything from feminism to psychedelic drugs to space exploration suggested a nearly infinite array of alternative ways to perceive reality; and artists and thinkers in the ’60s and ’70s proposed a “revolution of everyday life.” A four-part work by David Salle from 1973 exemplifies the artist’s flair for piquant juxtaposition at an early stage in his career. In depicting four women in bathrobes standing before their respective kitchen windows in contemplative states, Salle goes against the grain of feminist orthodoxy—revealing a penchant for courting controversy that he would expand in his later paintings; pasted underneath the black-and-white images of the women are brightly colored labels of their preferred coffee brands, with the arbitrarily differentiated brands signifying an insufficient substitute for true freedom in the postwar era. Martha Rosler’s bracingly caustic video Semiotics of the Kitchen and Ilene Segalove’s wistfully funny The Mom Tapes complete a trio of works investigating the role of women in a rapidly changing society.
In the 1980s, artists’ renewed interest in conventions of narrative and genre led to often highly staged or produced images that hint at how even our deepest feelings are mediated by the images that surround us. In the wake of the economic crash of the late 1980s, photographers focused increasingly on what was swept under the carpet—the repressed and the taboo. Sally Mann’s Jesse at Five (1987) depicts the artist’s daughter as the central figure, half-dressed, dolled-up, and posed like an adult. Mann often created these frank images of her children and caused some controversy during the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, her photographs of her children are remarkable for the artist’s assured handling of a potentially explosive subject with equanimity and grace.
During the following decade, artists created photographs and videos that confused the real and the imaginary in ways that almost eerily predicted the epistemological quandaries posed by the digital revolution. Meanwhile, a trio of recently made works by Erica Baum, Elizabeth McAlpine, and Brandon Lattu combine process and product in novel ways to comment obliquely on the shifting sands of how we come to know the world in our digital age.
Everyday Epiphanies: Photography and Daily Life Since 1969 is organized by Doug Eklund, Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Metropolitan Museum’s website will feature the exhibition www.metmuseum.org.