International Center of Photography

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 71 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The lobby boasts a large interactive screen that enables visitors to browse through the ICP’s digital image collection, sorted by timeline or via a large number of tags/keywords.  It’s fun to see what comes up, and how images connect across times and places. 

International Center of Photography

UPDATE APRIL 2021: This review is obsolete, as the ICP moved into a new home on Essex Street just before the pandemic. I haven’t visited it yet, though it is high on my museum to-do list.

International Center of PhotographyThe International Center of Photography is one of two photo-specialist institutions in New York (the other being the Aperture Foundation).  It has a venerable history, founded in 1974 by the photographer Cornell Capa, the brother of even greater photographer Robert Capa.  It’s currently located on the Bowery, very close to the New Museum.

In addition to its museum space, the Center offers classes, a full-time school of photography, and events.

Ironically, the ICP does not allow photography inside its galleries.  I’m not certain whether that policy is general or just for the current show.  Regardless, I have a few shots of the lobby area and cafe, but that’s it.

The ICP Galleries

International Center of Photography features two moderately sized gallery spaces, as well as a small video screening area. Visitors begin in a bland rectangular space on the ground floor, then go downstairs to a similar space directly below.  I don’t have a lot to say about them — they are windowless and fairly generic, painted white when I visited.

I found myself oddly conscious of the sound of the place.  There’s a very distinctive white noise in the background. It’s as obtrusive as an unobtrusive sound can be — I spent a bit of time puzzling whether it was just a noisy HVAC system, or if it was deliberate sound generated by speakers, to help moderate the sounds from videos and visitors.

Generic sound to match the generic space.

Perhaps they keep the space deliberately generic given what they fill it with.

What’s on View

The current show at ICP is titled “Generation Wealth,” a retrospective of the work of Lauren Greenfield.

For a quarter of a century Lauren Greenfield has been photographing the lifestyles of the rich and excessive, taking on America’s (and, increasingly, the world’s) obsessions with money, youth, and their respective trappings.  Including both still photography and video, her work is colorful, packed with detail, and very in-your-face.

I first became aware of Greenfield via “Queen of Versailles,” her documentary of the real estate boom and bust, looking at a horrible family constructing what would’ve been the largest home in America, until they went bankrupt.  She manages to humanize the Siegels, to a point.  You almost feel, um, empathy? for their plight.  Not really.  But almost.

Although a photography show, this exhibition required a lot of reading.  Greenfield is a documentarian, and every photograph paired with a relatively lengthy wall text caption giving the who, what, where, and why.  Often that felt valuable, but sometimes I think she (or the curators) should simply have let the image speak for itself.

Greenfield’s work is impressive, and mostly the subjects she goes after richly, richly deserve her, and our, condemnation.  But I came away from this show feeling disheartened by her almost puritanical pursuit of anything that smacks of worshipping wealth or fame, youth or beauty.  

She photographs what she perceives as the woes of society with too wide of a lens, seeming to condemn a girl’s desire for a perfect quinceanera and a gaggle of spry senior cheerleaders equally with plutocrats, plastic surgery addicts, and child beauty queens.

Even in my disagreement, I felt extremely engaged:  Greenfield’s work gets under your skin like a liposuction tube for complacency.

Should You Visit the International Center of Photography?

International Center of Photography
ICP Lobby and Cafe

Clearly, if you’re a photographer yourself or are a photo buff or shutterbug, the ICP is a must-visit place.  The International Center of Photography has a tremendous brand and reputation, and I can practically guarantee that any show there will highlight thought-provoking, important work.

The ICP’s mission statement uses the phrase “concerned photography.”  That’s new to me and interesting. It made me ponder the “unconcerned photography,” or “pointless photography,” which is outside its remit.  Like, I would guess, 97% of Instagram? At any rate, those who prefer their art experiences not to provoke thoughts might do well to avoid this institution.

For Reference:

Address 250 The Bowery, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $14
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