The University Art Museum is blessed with a pretty impressive photography collection, and has been showcasing a sizable chunk of it through the summer under the title Regarding Place: Photographs from the Permanent Collection. Paired with three digital projections of web- or video-derived color images by the New York City-based, German-born Wolfgang Staehle – who will give a talk at the museum at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 7) – this offers a nice opportunity to take in a nearly century-long swath of fine photography.
Regarding Place includes over 100 black-and-white pictures by 17 artists, some of them iconic, some cult favorites, some little-known. The great majority of the prints in the show were donated to the museum’s collection over the last few decades by the Brown family, whose two children attended UAlbany in the 1980s and 1990s, and the show was organized by UAM curator Corinna Schaming, giving a sort of bi-level structure to the selection process. The result is somewhat uneven, but of a very high quality overall, and the installation takes on a subtly intriguing life of its own, as framed prints are variously grouped in rows, stacks, and grids, sometimes loosely spaced, sometimes tightly packed.
The premise of the show is, frankly, half baked. Many of these pictures struck me as being fairly indifferent to setting, or distinctly not about place at all – and the trouble it took to try to come up with a unifying theme for the show seems forced. This is evident in the rather tortured language of the press materials – for example, Schaming writes that these photographs “consider the resonance of a given site” and “foreground the direct and emotive appeal of black and white photography, while also informing current photography’s renewed interest in faithfully reproducing the visual world.” I’m sorry, but this is not my idea of meaningful description.