Review | The Open Road at the Museum of Fine Arts

February 25, 2017 by EVA AVENUE | VISUAL ARTS
Ryan McGinley (American, born 1977) Dakota Hair (2004) C-print Courtesy of the artist and Team Gallery, New York
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There’s nothing I love more than traveling throughout our aesthetically magnanimous amber waves of small-town smog factories and the pore-clogging pavement of adventure, through the yellow birch trees of Colorado’s mountain trails, peeing in rest stops across freshly-mown Indiana and walking the streets of romantic, crazy New Orleans.

Walking into The Open Road at the Museum of Fine Arts, I’m met with four rooms of photos taken on road trip across the United States, large and small, black&white and in color, spanning the early 1900s till now. I breathe in the vastness of America captured in photos snapped from pit stops and red lights, winds of history blowing through atmospheric speculatives like new searches for old truths, large roadside kitsch debris as national monuments for the people of the land who ripped it warringly, fair and square, from the hands of the Natives, the roads set and paved over the past hundreds of years as ancestors forged ahead by wagon without a guarantee of safety going forward. The history of our roads are the history of America. May I hyperbolically suggest the open road is the last remaining vestige of freedom in our country? The show runs through June 4, 2017.

“A place to get lost and find yourself in the process,” says the wall text. “The road trip remains an enduring symbol in American culture.”

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) Untitled from the Los Alamos Portfolio (1965-1974) Dye transfer print ©Eggleston Artist Trust Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

The traveling show comes from British curator David Campany’s 2014 book The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip featuring big weight photographers Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha, Inge Morath, Garry Winogrand, William Eggleston, Lee Friendlander, Joel Meyerowitz, Jacob Holdt, Bernard Plossu, Victor Burgin, Joel Sternfeld, Shinya Fujiwara, Alec Soth, Todd Hido, Ryan McGinley, Justine Kurland, Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, and Stephen Shore. (This part isn’t mentioned, but Stephen Shore was Andy Warhol’s de facto Factory photographer at the age of 18.)

The opening room includes works by Robert Frank, who got a Guggenheim fellowship to capture America on a road trip and “the result was a vast survey of all that seemed uncomfortable in the American psyche” reads the text on the wall beside Frank’s work. “His book “The Americans” remains an influence for countless photographers.” The book’s foreword was written by Jack Kerouac. Mid-twentieth century writers worked symbiotically with photographers to drive home the inherent poetry of the American experience.

Frank picked the final 83 photos out of the thousands he took for the book, and they are said to be some of the greatest photos ever daken. Jack Kerouac writes “After seeing these pictures, you end up finally not knowing anymore whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin”.

I attended this exhibit twice. First with art critic Luis Gottardi who talks my ear off about gear and fun facts about photographers but I don’t care — I’m uncharacteristically hung-over from yesterday’s friend-hopping day-drinking rampage in celebration of my freshly self-employed life.

Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Phillips 66, Flagstaff, Arizona (1962)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

We stop at Ed Ruscha’s small square photographs and Luis says “I love photographs this size.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Look at how close you are to the photograph,” he motions with his hand. “That’s intimacy. When a photo’s the size of a billboard, it pushes you back.”

Big photos pack a powerful punch in this show with breathtaking works like color photo pioneer Joel Sternfeld’s poolside storm and Ryan McGinley’s Dakota Hair shot expertly from the back of a moving truck in 2014; the baby in the road in her mesh crib while the family stands against a wall looking into a gorge with the rest of the tourists; a pastel-rich shot of music-drenched New Orleans.

Expect trips taken along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles as seen through the eyes of travelers from other countries and national homebodies driving through their big backyards. East Coast. Here and there. Pennsylvania. Nowhere. Somewhere close to our hearts. Somewhere free. Somewhere new. The serene anxiety of the overnight in a roadside inn, with the light coming in and hitting everything just so–the kind of light that takes a photographer out of their their head and into their body as their arms reach for the camera, up to the eye and their finger snaps the button. It’s all about America, but it’s ultimately about light.

 

The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip
Feb 9 – June 4, 2017
Museum of Fine Arts
255 Beach Dr NE
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Call (727) 896-2667 for extra info

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