Art in Review
Friday, March 18, 2005
56 Water Street
Through March 27
This tough-minded theme show doesn't bother much with rhetoric. It just goes straight for pictures, most of them photographs. Few are of actual combat, but almost all document its long-term consequences.
The photographer Susan Meiselas, represented by work done in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Kurdish areas over the last 25 years, is the presiding genius here, and I do mean genius, a word I very rarely use. Bobby Neel Adams contributes portraits of men and women maimed by landmines in Cambodia and Mozambique; and Nina Berman has excerpts from "Purple Hearts, Back from Iraq," her recent series of portraits, accompanied by personal statements, of American soldiers physically or mentally disabled during the current war.
These confounding pictures are as difficult to look at as they are to move beyond, though a sequence of projected photographs from Iraq and Afghanistan by the war photographer Ron Haviv are comparably gripping. After seeing them, however, it's hard to concentrate on the nondocumentary work in the show, good as much of it is, particularly Mike Asente's images of explosions embroidered on what could be pocket handkerchiefs, and a tense, oblique, meditative film by Eve Sussman.
Susan Sontag, late in her life, wrote about the art-obliterating power of photographs, and wrote about it well. This show, organized by Smack Mellon's director, Kathleen Gilrain, is dedicated to her. It's a worthy homage. It demonstrates exactly what she was talking about.