Archiving systems impose an illusory structural order on the radically chaotic and indeterminate nature of everything.
Gagosian Gallery is pleased to announce The Picture Collection, a new series by Taryn Simon.
The Picture Collection comprises forty-nine works inspired by the New York Public Library’s picture archive, one of the august institution’s lesser-known troves. The archive contains 1.2 million prints, postcards, posters, and printed images, most of which have been cut from secondary sources, such as books and magazines. It is the largest circulating picture library in the world, organized according to a complex cataloging system of over 12,000 subject headings. Since its inception in 1915, it has been an important resource for writers, historians, artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, and advertising agencies. Diego Rivera, who made use of it for his legendary mural for the Rockefeller Center, Man at the Crossroads (1934), noted how the scope of this picture collection might go on to shape contemporary visions of America.
On the heels of such ambitious research projects as An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar and A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII, Simon taps this vast yet idiosyncratic archive to further explore the taxonomic, classificatory, and revelatory purposes of photography. The process of archiving images from many disparate sources inevitably exposes the wayward desires at work in the seemingly neutral or objective process of generic image-gathering. Not only does The Picture Collection underscore the extent to which chance, incident, and arbitrary inclusion or exclusion are written into analog cataloging systems, driven as they are by the persistent human impulse to identify, select, collate, and systematize information; as well it suggests how the earlier systems presaged digital search engines and anticipated the widespread use of applications like Google, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Each work is made up of a number of images that Simon has selected from a given archival category, such as Chiaroscuro, Handshaking, Haircombing, Express Highways, Financial Panics, Israel, and Beards and Mustaches. In artfully overlapped compositions, only slices of the individual images are visible, each fragment intimating its whole. Thus multiple related images are transformed into almost abstract color fields and geometric shapes. The framing and mounting has been specifically designed to make reference to early hanging systems in libraries and museums.
The Picture Collection serves as a tabula rasa where images that are historically inscribed and validated sit beside those that are not. For example, by placing the reproduction of a painting by Kazimir Malevich next to those of unknown artworks hanging in an anonymous hotel room, or a Weegee photograph beside a commissioned advertisement, she puts into question the hierarchies by which visual and cultural materials are categorized. Continually seeking to discover the patterns, codes, and orders within the image overload of contemporary society, Simon questions the very dynamics of contemporary culture as a process of evolution or one doomed to endless repetition.
Taryn Simon was born in New York in 1975. She is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. She was awarded the Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Award in 2010. Important exhibitions include “The Innocents,” Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2003, traveled to P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, and High Museum of Art, Atlanta through 2006); “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007, traveled to Photographer's Gallery, London, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and Foam_Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam through 2008); “Photographs and Texts,” Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (2011, traveled to Moscow House of Photography and Helsinki Museum of Art through 2012); and “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters,” Tate Modern, London (2011, traveled to Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles). A major exhibition of Simon's work will open at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing in September 2013.
The Picture Collection was developed alongside the online database Image Atlas, created by Taryn Simon and computer programmer Aaron Swartz. Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local search engines throughout the world. The database was featured in the New Museum’s The New Art Online series (2012), and was developed from Rhizome’s signature Seven on Seven conference in April 2012. Aaron Swartz was the founder of Demand Progress—which launched the campaign against Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA)—as well as developer of theinfo.org and a Contributing Editor to The Baffler until his untimely death in January 2013.
Taryn Simon and Teju Cole
This spring, as part of the Lambert Family Lecture Series at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Taryn Simon joined Teju Cole for an online conversation about her artistic practice and creative process.
Taryn Simon: An Occupation of Loss
In Taryn Simon’s performance work An Occupation of Loss (2016), professional mourners enact rituals of grief, simultaneously broadcasting their lamentations from within a sculptural installation. This video by filmmaker Boris B. Bertram documents the April 2018 performance of this work with Artangel in Islington, London.
The New York Public Library’s Picture Collection
Joshua Chuang, the Robert B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography at the New York Public Library, discusses the institution’s singular Picture Collection, the artist Taryn Simon’s rigorous engagement with it, and four instances of its little-known role in the history of art making.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2021
The Summer 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Carrie Mae Weems’s The Louvre (2006) on its cover.
Cast of Characters
James Lawrence explores how contemporary artists have grappled with the subject of the library.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
The Color of a Flea’s Eye: The Picture Collection
July 14–September 11, 2021
976 Madison Avenue, New York