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Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video

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Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video

Nestled in the photography wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the stellar contemporary exhibition, Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video. Culled from the museum’s permanent collection, the work on view explores dreams as inspiration, an antidote to reason, and fertile ground for inquiry into the imagination.

The exhibition features a variety of techniques, including double exposure, paint on prints, 3D collage and photograms. With a nod to surrealism through the lens of pioneering black and white photographers Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Brassaï, as well as 20th century standouts Robert Frank and Peter Hujar, the presentation of images spans elegantly into 21st century work by Oliver Wasow and Paul Graham among others.

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Sophie Calle’s 1979 series, The Sleepers, allows viewers to witness the vulnerability of sleep through a project that also addresses themes of voyeurism, surveillance, and public/private boundaries. The artist invited 29 friends and associates to sleep on her bed for eight hours each over nine days. The small black and white portraits frame either two women or one woman in Calle’s bed from the torso up with messy sleep ridden sheets.

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A majestic large-scale black and white photogram by Adam Fuss, My Ghost, immediately invokes the obtuse mystery of dream states through its clever capturing of a swirling whiff of smoke.

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Oliver Wasow’s series, Float 1984-2008, displayed as an installation of small inkjet prints in white frames, mesmerizes viewers with a colorful wall of illusory discs and orbs suspended in animation. Speaking to his interest in science fiction, apocalyptic fantasies and the documentation of unidentified flying objects, the work is made through the manipulation and distortion of found images, allowing viewers to invent their meaning.

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A playful and imaginative work by Bea Nettles, Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards, made in 1975, came to the artist in a dream she had in the summer of 1970. When viewed collectively in their glass case, the small halftone prints in subdued hues of navy blue, forest green, black and white, burgundy red and plum purple, invoke a gorgeous kaleidoscope effect that is provocative in and of itself. Upon closer view, the carefully reproduced Tarot images reveal staged portraits of Nettles’ friends and family standing in as talismans of magical, yet-to-be-imagined futures.

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One of the exhibition’s most straightforward photographs is John Southam’s 1999, Ditchling Beacon, Dew Pond, chromogenic print. The large-scale landscape image is part of an ongoing body of work that documents Dew Ponds (large man-made watering holes for sheep and cattle) in Southern England dating back as far as the 9th century. In Southham’s words, “Full, they are like a mirrored disk or an eye reflecting heavens. Empty, they resemble craters made of celestial objects crashing into the ground.”

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Photos by Anders Jones

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