04.15.09 Annenberg Space for Photography

The newly-opened Annenberg Space for Photography (located just outside the CAA Death Star in the center of the Century City security vortex) might be a great place to visit on your lunch break if you need a walk and work at offices next door, but aside from the fact that the new center for photography is a bastion of culture in the otherwise corporate office park of Century City, the place really lacks in terms of presentation, content and innovative means of expressing photography at this juncture in time (i.e. as the medium itself transforms from analog to digital representation, and hence from a specialist's field to the realm of the amateur).

The inaugural show (up until May 28) features eight “internationally renowned” photographers and artists, whose works “capture the complexity and vitality of the City of Los Angeles.” Without a doubt.

Some of the L.A. Times’ image archives are here, photo journalism by Times photographers Carolyn Cole and Helen Garber, Julius Shulman’s iconic architectural photography (yes, the one with the girl in the white dress inside Pierre Koenig’s glass cantilevered house is here), Cathy Opie’s home-is-where-the-heart-is family shots, and Greg Gorman’s icons of fame and fortune are all here as well. The breadth of artists to serve the “complexity and vitality of the city” seems correct, and yet something also seems very wrong.

It’s always a shame when the audience becomes passive in the viewing of art, and the new Annenberg Center does that in spades. Images are set to “Morning Becomes Eclectic”-style soft dance soundtracks, and many of the exhibits consist of wall-sized video projections of various images that blurrily segue into one another. This presentation takes a central participatory function away from the viewer, and changes their role from assessor, critic or empathetic observer into the role of casual consumer. We cannot look at the photograph for as long as we might like, and therefore, we miss its nuances, its ugly side, its beautiful side, it lightness or its weight. We also cannot revisit the image later in our visit here either because it’s been lost in the shuffle. And the soundtrack – that’s just plain annoying. We realize this is an attempt to represent (re-present) the work in a digital world, but it comes of half-cooked, clumsy and feeling like a trade-show exhibit.

Other gripes include:

Placement of Shulman’s photos are positively un-viewable (at lunchtime anyways) because of an outside glare bouncing off the pavement.

The L.A. Times’ archives are played out slide show style on plasma screens, accompanied by a VH1-esque, “hits of the 60s and 70s” playlist. Again, what’s with the friggin’ soundtrack? I don’t need to hear The Zombie’s “Time of the Season” to know the 1960s are being referenced.

And there’s a kitchen, “because all great conversations happen in the kitchen” (whugh?)

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