Exhibition Review: Aperture Summer Open 2018
By Billy Anania
The Aperture Foundation gallery is a great place to show someone what contemporary fine photography is all about. The Chelsea gallery premiered its 2018 Summer Open last week to a diverse crowd of spectators who were simultaneously compelled by celebration and catharsis. Beyond a social gathering of creators and admirers, the reception offered a more serious message, one that pertains to our collective experience.
The year’s theme is The Way We Live Now, in which 18 contributors explore the nature of modern life—whatever that means to them. They explore this through their own perspectives in varying formats. Contributing artists include Bubblegum Club, Diego Camposeco, Camila Falcão, Jillian Freyer, Jonathan Gardenhire, Lili Kobielski, Roei Greenberg, Vincent Hung, Luther Konadu, Gowun Lee, Tyler Mitchell, Davide Monteleone, Philip Montgomery, Christian Sanna, Matthew Shain, Abdo Shanan, Shikeith and Maria Sturm.
This type of exhibition shows a wide audience the potential of lesser known artists, and who deserves to be discovered. Each year, Aperture assembles a curatorial team to wade through thousands of submissions. This year’s curators include Siobhán Bohnacker, senior photo editor at the New Yorker; Brendan Embser, managing editor of Aperture magazine; Marvin Orellana, photo editor for New York magazine; and independent writer/critic Antwuan Sargent.
With intersecting narratives of culture and class, photographs in the exhibition present an array of identities, attitudes and circumstances. Artists call attention to issues of racial justice and climate change, which create everyday struggles for many. Scenes of police brutality are shown alongside staged photos of models. Photographs of prisons and institutional violence accompany Middle Eastern deserts and day laborers in cotton fields. A woman wades through a flooded basement in a photograph by Philip Montgomery, her arms outstretched and reflected symmetrically in water up to her shoulders. In another Montgomery photo, a Hillary Clinton supporter reacts to a recounting of police brutality at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The effects of systematic oppression are clear as he cries openly, his tears creating dark canals on dry cheeks.
Other contributions are more meditative. In Jillian Freyer’s Three Women, teenage girls enmesh their hair together in a style reminiscent of ‘80s shoegaze album covers. Jamal Nxedlana of Bubblegum Club juxtaposes a stylish, androgynous model against a hot pink and industrial background, exuding confidence and composure. And A New Silk Road 004 by Davide Monteleone shows the blurred backside of a well-dressed man gazing intently at skyscrapers in China, an ascending world superpower determined to create a new narrative for the East.
Presenting these works together allows Aperture to speculate on the institutions and paradigms we consider contemporary. And especially in New York, this is exactly the type of diversity one might find on any given day. The collection of experiences represents the shared human experience, how we each contribute to the greater global discourse. But this mixed bag of fine photography should not dissuade viewers from celebrating art for art’s sake. On the contrary, it is photographers who offer insights into the complications of life. The Way We Live Now is not just a commemoration of identity or hardship; rather, it is a reminder of the injustices that shape modern societies, the challenges that guide contemporary cultures, and the rewards that come out of perseverance.
The 2018 Summer Open will be on display at 547 W 27th St. until August 16. Visit https://aperture.org/exhibition/2018-aperture-summer-open/ for more information.