< Speculators

"Focus on the Old South"

A.D. Coleman
New York Times
December 16, 1973

A tendency on the part of many artists to tailor their work to the tastes of curators has been noticeable in American creative life for quite some time now. Photography has certainly not been excempt from this trend, the apparent premise of which is that the customer is always right. Since the artist curator symbiosis has been increasingly obvious for the past several years, it should come as no surprise that someone has found a way to eliminate the middleman—i.e., the audience—entirely, by addressing his work, literally and figuratively, directly to the curators. The person in question is William Dane, whose work is being presented by the Museum of Modem Art's Department of Photography through Jan. 6. The work, which is being shown in slide form, is titled "Unfamiliar Places: A Message from Bill Dane." Dane is an artist who, some five or six years ago according to his bio, turned his attention to photography. Dane's contribution to the medium so far consists in having made a series of black-and-white snapshots during his travels. These snapshots he has converted into limited-edition postcards, which he has sent to a select mailing list. All the examples of these which I have seen—including those in this show at MOMA — have been addressed to museum curators (in this case, to MOMA's John Szarkowski and Dennis Longwell, with a glancing reference in one to William Burback, a former MOMA curatorial assistant). Szarkowski is the second curator in the New York area to have elected to show Dane's work. The way to a curator's esthetic, it seems, is through his/her ego. This year Dane was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue his work. Now, if I were a photographer myself, I would be deeply Insulted by this show. I would be insulted that an institution so prestigious and powerful as the Museum of Modern Art would present, as photographically exemplary, a collection of random snapshots by someone who has not even established enough craft competence to make his disregard of craft standards a significant esthetic choice. I would be insulted at the presentation's implication that the work of an artist who diddles around in photography awhile has greater significance than the work of any of hundreds of photographers who have been serious and committed workers in their medium for a decade and more, who have never even had a single print in a MOMA show. And I would be insulted by the Department of Photography's sponsorship of an artist who writes, "It's been said that I'm documenting almost nothing sans technique, I've always been uneasy near compliments." Because, in, the last analysis, it's the snottiness that gets to you. But I'm not a photographer—a fact for which I have frequent occasion to be grateful. I am, as one photographer put it, a "word man," and so I cannot say that this exhibit insulted my craft, my art, or my profession. It only insulted my intelligence.