Photographers' Gallery, May 2012
The Photographers'Gallery - thank god you're back. We missed you! Nine months overdue and with a refurb budget that collapsed soon after the doors closed in 2010 we're perhaps lucky it survived at all let alone managing to bolt two extra floors on the top of the building - bringing it to a total of five - and installing a lift. BUT, SHOCK! Billy and the Zoom cafe crew have been replaced. Several years ago this website took its name from one of their legendary cakes - and massive efforts are now underway to find where they have re-located. The innovative 1pm Friday lunch times where anybody can talk about their favourite photo was a 2010 initiative that is making a very welcome return, though.
Opener, 'Burtynsky: Oil' has been acquired from the Huis Marseille Museum in Amsterdam and is perhaps an indication that the pre-closure direction back to straightforward art photography is being maintained. There was a time when the idea of showing any quality photography, either modernist or conceptual, was deeply problematic to those running the gallery, the agenda having shifted dramatically, particularly through the Thatcher years and for some time after, to the core issue of social inclusiveness. While those directors may now be far away inspecting vines for rust on their sunny acres in the Dordogne the question to be asked of the current team is just how demanding will the forthcoming shows be? The numbers coming through the door clearly show there is huge interest in what is unquestionably the most important art medium around at the moment but are the curators going to take a few chances to push things forward before the bubble bursts? Burtynsky's vast, all-encompassing project has global reach, is solid, old-school and has a reassuring aesthetic with pretty good print values (both technical & financial). The CO2 footprint must have been immense. It would be a waste to see the Photographers' Gallery becoming V&A lite. Now that the two Tates are muscling in on photography a fleet footed strategy is perhaps required. I'd have been entertained to see something like the Barbican's current Song Dong 'Waste Not' installation of 10,000 personally significant objects presented here. It would show real intent to challenge expectations while throwing up some real resonances for the medium, if forcing the immediate resignation of all the curators, admittedly.
The Wall - positioned over the stairs to the bookshop in the basement - may be a nod to a digital revolution which has meant everyone in the world is now using photography - to the point of it perhaps replacing the written word for many - but acknowledging the revolution may no longer be enough.
(Burtynsky: Oil until 1st July 2012)