While recently visiting the Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Met Museum, I also came across an offbeat exhibit entitled Now You See It: Photography and Concealment in an adjoining gallery. It was a small show by the museum's standards and consisted of only about twenty works held loosely together by a rather vague concept. Though there were no masterworks included among the pieces shown, they were still fun to look at quickly before moving on. They varied wildly in quality and style, and their relationship to the exhibit's theme was not always readily apparent.
A few black & white photographs took a quite literal approach to the idea of concealment by showing the "hidden" side of their subjects. Among these was the show's avatar, Jimmy "One Eye" Collins After Arraignment (1946) by Bill Wasilevich, that displays its subject with overcoat drawn up over one eye in an attempt to hide his face from tabloid news photographers. A similar news photo by Weegee from the same period shows two suspects in the back of a police wagon using their hats to cover their faces. These obvious attempts to mask one's features can also be readily seen in two 1942 street photos by Helen Levitt that depict children playing games on the sidewalk as well as in Pierre-Louis Pierson's famous portrait of the Countess da Castiglione, Scherzo di Follia (1861-1867), Ralph Eugene Meatyard's Occasion for Diriment (1962) and Paul Outerbridge's 1936 study of a masked female nude.
So far so good. The manner in which photographers' works depict concealment becomes much more problematic in other pieces on display. It is in fact doubtful that some of these photographers were even conscious when taking their shots that they were working along the lines of such a theme. It was probably not uppermost in the minds of Lee Frielander in Shadow, New York City (1966) or Robert Frank in Covered Car (1955). Two photos of nudes taken by Diane Arbus in the 1960s would in fact seem the very antithesis of a concealed identity no matter the pithy quote attributed to her in the museum's exhibit notes. And then there are works - such as Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1972), Chris Burden's I Became a Secret Hippy (1971) and Lutz Bacher's Jackie & Me (1989) - that are downright bizarre.
There are several little known works on display that are worth seeing and appreciating for themselves without any reference to a deeper meaning. I particularly enjoyed viewing, for example, John Cohen's Red Grooms' "The Burning Building" (1960), Juliette Alexandre-Bisson's Birth of Ectoplasm (1919-1920) and Jack Pierson's The Lonely Life (1992). My favorite was Miguel Rio Branco's Touch of Evil (1994) that resembled a veiled surrealist portrait but was actually a capture of the "seamy underside of a tapestry."
The exhibit continues through September 1, 2014.