Reminiscing on Tangibility: Photo Series of Andy Gershon
Between 1989 and 1992, contemporary photographer Thomas Struth produced a series of photographs taken from inside some of the most iconic and magnificent museums in the world. The photos feature great works of Western art history in the galleries of the Louvre, the Pantheon, the Art Institute of Chicago, and others. The true focus of Struth’s works, though, was on the viewers perusing the gallery. Unselfconsciously, the subjects gaze at the works of art, at the museum itself, and at each other. Museum Photographs invited reflection on the act of viewership in the museum and complicated the relationship between object and subject.
Twenty years later, Andy Gershon reintroduces this polemic within the context of the digital landscape of the 21st century. Like Struth’s Museum Photographs, Gershon’s series Photourist captures unknowing subjects as they gaze at art and tourist attractions. Gershon’s photographs, however, add a third participant to the dialogue between viewer and object: the focal point of the works is on cell phone screens, clutched in the hands of tourists and museumgoers as they snap photographs of the great works of art and culture before them.
Perspective is at play in the images of Photourist. Gershon manipulates angles in such a way that forces viewers to see the tourist attractions only through the phone screen in the foreground. In the background, the cultural monuments are only partially visible. Certainly, Gershon’s method of inserting a cell phone screen as an obstacle between viewer and artwork calls into question the use – and overuse – of technology in place of candid engagement with the exterior world. The literal screen in Photourist thus takes on a symbolic dimension, as it functions to screen or obfuscate the observer’s view of represented artworks and monuments.
Along with Photourist, two works from Gershon’s archival series titled Concert Tickets are currently available at Weinberger Fine Art. To create Concert Tickets, the artist preserved tickets from concerts he attended between 1978 and 1995, and now presents them as large-scale prints on cotton rag paper. The resulting effect is remarkably three-dimensional, as if the printed images adopt the texture of the aged, slightly ragged tickets. Concert Tickets seamlessly transports viewers to the gyrating audience of a Prince concert, to the grimy backstage of a The Clash show, to the overheated tour van of Sonic Youth.
At first glace, Photourist and Concert Tickets share few visual or symbolic similarities. Yet, in both series, Gershon leaves viewers with a lingering sense of nostalgia – nostalgia for overcrowded rock concerts that reek of beer and cigarette smoke, nostalgia for a time when art was consumed with eyes and not with iPhones. Gershon’s work wistfully calls on the Internet-crazed world to experience art and music candidly and tangibly – to observe without the barrier of a screen, and to collect physical memories rather than digital ones.