Garry Winogrand’s “Women are Beautiful” photographs are curatorial darlings: In the last couple years they’ve been on view in half a dozen museums. (Right now many of the pictures are up at the Art Institute of Chicago.)
One place you won’t find them — at least more than two or three of them — is in Leo Rubinfien’s Winogrand retrospective, which is at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through June 2. After the show leaves SFMOMA it will travel to the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jeu de Paume and to the Foundacion MAPFRE. It’s something I asked Rubinfien about when he was a guest on Episode No. 70 of The Modern Art Notes Podcast. And I’m not the only one to lock in on that question: Take a look at what Nick Shere had to say here. And Denver Art Museum curator Eric Paddock exhibited the photographs in 2012 and we discussed them here.
For my column in the May issue of Modern Painters magazine, I went back and looked at the photos myself, to see if they worked or if they were aestheticized voyeurism. Here’s part of what I found:
Certainly nubility is abundant. Some of the pictures, such as 1971’s Aspen of several waitresses at an outdoor eatery, veer toward ogling. Plenty of others are so obviously the gelatin silver print version of teenaged gawking that I wonder if Winogrand picked up his jaw up from the sidewalk before taking the picture. Particularly uncomfortable is a photograph of women emerging from a park bathroom.
But by no means is that all that’s here. In a number of pictures, Winogrand seems to be riffing on the history of painting (a common thread that runs through the work of otherwise unalike photographers of the era, such as Lewis Baltz and Ray K. Metzker). In 1970’s Toronto Winogrand riffs on the lake-park-and-tree composition of Seurat’s 1884-86 A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
Several pictures play with the traditional painting subject of Arcadia. An untitled photograph from around 1970 shows a woman reclining in a park while reading a book in front of a tree. It’s a traditional Arcadian image, perhaps informed by Matisse’s 1905-06 Le Bonheur de Vivre or his 1908-09 Nymph and Satyr, with only a Pan missing from the pastoral. (And then you realize that in place of the satyr, Winogrand was there with his camera.)
For the rest, check out this month’s issue. It’s a good one. Look for it at a newsstand near you, or subscribe for $20!