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Robert Bergman, Alec Soth, and contemporary portraiture

    Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986-1995 opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few days ago, following a pretty amazing triple-play last fall, with Bergman shows at the august National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; P.S. 1, the MoMA affiliate in Queens devoted to contemporary art; and the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea. Among a host of glowing […]

 

Untitled, 1989; © Robert Bergman

 

“Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, Louisiana”; 2000; Alec Soth

Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986-1995 opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few days ago, following a pretty amazing triple-play last fall, with Bergman shows at the august National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; P.S. 1, the MoMA affiliate in Queens devoted to contemporary art; and the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea. Among a host of glowing reviews (see below) and compelling profiles of the Minneapolis-raised Bergman (who turned down a show at the MIA in 1968 and has worked almost entirely outside art-world circles until now), critic Andy Grundberg sparked a controversy in the current Aperture magazine when he concluded that ”  … Bergman is out to convince us that he is a great photographer. Unfortunately, he has appeared a half-century too late.”It wasn’t long before Alec Soth called out a “photo critic rumble!” on his Little Brown Miscellanea blog, pointing to Aperture’s Exposures blog, where David Levi Strauss countered Grundberg with the title of his response, claiming that Bergman is “Right on Time.” Reading the review, the response to the review, Grundberg’s counter-response, and the commentary from others is a great primer on some key issues related to contemporary photography.

Which brings us back to Soth. It’s too bad the Bergman show ends (August 22) before From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America opens (September 12); it would be fun to zip between the MIA and the Walker and compare the formidable portraits by these two photographers.

That said, would it spark another photographic controversy to claim that the average art fan might conduct such an exercise just as well or even better with a dual-monitor setup? (To be clear — a display of considerably higher quality than is presented on this page.) Photographs reproduced in books are one thing — in a recent interview related to his show here, Soth said “A picture in a book is often nearly as good, and sometimes better, as a picture on a wall” — but has a similar argument been made for photographic display on computers? Notwithstanding the shift to digital photography over the past 15 years or so, that idea seems more germane than ever with the impending iPad revolution.

Robert Bergman’s work reviewed in (among many other places):
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post
Brooklyn Rail

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