Sometimes a small, well-conceived, tightly focused show can be just as satisfying as a much larger exhibition. The Norton's new photography exhibit is not such a show. It's no more filling, in fact, than an appetizer when you're hungry for a full meal.
The show is made up of 20 new acquisitions to the permanent photography collection. It's presented almost as an afterthought, tucked away in a side gallery. You have to pass through another couple of galleries along the way that threaten to sidetrack you with their treasures: the peak-period Jackson Pollock Night Mist; Robert Motherwell's Personage, from the same era; a large, voluptuous Morris Louis abstract; a clever Dan Flavin light installation; even a classic Warhol silkscreen of big blue flowers.
Not that the new photos are without charm. Three shots by Nigerian-born J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere document dramatic African hairstyles seen from behind, as if he were capturing sculpture. Japanese photographer Tokihiro Sato weighs in with a trio of gelatin silver prints of gnarled trees whose bases are festooned with tiny lights. Trained as a sculptor, Sato works with a large-format camera and uses exposures of up to three hours to get his ghostly effects.
There are also appealingly stark black-and-white prints by American scientist turned photographer David Goldes. Hole in Soap Bubble Film and Puddle are just what the titles describe, evoking, as the text aptly puts it, "a childlike sense of wonder about the physical world." Israeli-born Naomi Leshem contributes two vivid color portraits of sleeping youths. American photographer Lisa Kereszi, who once worked for Nan Goldin, creates abstracts from such mundane subjects as a window shade and a door.
It's bewildering to see a five-panel Jenny Holzer oil with political overtones shoehorned into this little show, crowding out a large color photo by Michal Chelbin, which is relegated to a tiny alcove between galleries. Unlike the photographs, the painting has no wall text to explain its mysterious presence here.
The Norton reopened with this unassuming exhibit after a brief closure to refurbish its lobby and galleries, several of which remain closed. The galleries that are open have been rehung, and while they look spiffy, there are jarring juxtapositions here and there, as if the art were hastily put back on the walls because guests were on their way over.