‘One Third of a Nation: The Photographs of the Farm Security Administration, 1935-1946’
Through April 30. Online at Howard Greenberg Gallery, howardgreenberg.com/viewing-room/one-third-of-a-nation.
With photographers restricted from entering hospitals and nursing homes, the mortal toll of the coronavirus pandemic has largely evaded the camera. But the economic toll has not: boarded-up stores and restaurants, masked citizens at unemployment offices, drone shots of cars lining up for miles at food banks.
These images deploy a visual rhetoric — capturing a whole economy in a single figure, a single store — that was forged in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Howard Greenberg Gallery, a longstanding photography dealer, has turned to the web to showcase more than two dozen photographs from the Farm Security Administration, which tasked artists like Walker Evans, Gordon Parks and Ben Shahn to document rural agricultural crises and the prolonged immiseration of “one-third of a nation,” in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words.
The digital presentation displays Arthur Rothstein’s 1936 photograph of a dust storm at a barren Oklahoma farm, picturing a father and sons against sky and earth scrubbed to gray nullities. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” shot the same year in California, is accompanied by three lesser-known variations, in which the impoverished woman snuggles her towheaded son or breastfeeds her baby; the show also includes Lange’s images of migrants from Greece and the Philippines, cutting lettuce or harvesting cotton.
These photographers were not journalists — both Rothstein and Lange partly staged these famous images. They were artists, assigned to give form to ongoing hardship, whose achievements were made possible only through the assurance of government employment. Whether the Great Lockdown leads to a second Great Depression is a matter for policymakers, but this much I can say: Any serious response to the economic and cultural devastation that lies before us will have to see artists back on the public payroll.
Sterling Crispin: ‘Future Tense’
Through May 11. Online at False Flag, false-flag.org.
In times of uncertainty, it’s hard to think about the future. That’s part of what makes Sterling Crispin’s first solo exhibition so compelling. I’d seen photographs of the show but didn’t make it to the gallery before it closed because of the coronavirus crisis. Now I find myself returning to those images.
“Future Tense” consists of complex objects that would undoubtedly reward in-person viewing. Mr. Crispin often uses sophisticated technologies like 3-D printing, virtual reality and machine-learning algorithms to create his work. Yet technology is also one of his primary subjects — how it interfaces with and diverges from the natural world. And how we have become an advanced society on a path to rendering itself extinct.
The profound strangeness of this discrepancy pervades the exhibition, which is filled with ordinary items gone haywire (and is well-documented on False Flag’s website and Mr. Crispin’s Instagram account): fire extinguishers that are also candelabras, watches that don’t tell time (one reads “Don’t panic”), flower arrangements springing from vessels that look like machine parts, and oversize inspection tags containing hopeful and apocalyptic texts like “The time has come.”
The front of the surfboard-shaped “Escape Vehicle 001” (2020) features a graph of the global temperature overlaid with stock price trading diagrams. It’s shooting toward either the collapse of our ecosystem or A.I. saving the planet. Despite the promise of the work’s title, its form suggests another lesson: We can’t escape the future so much as find a way to ride on through it.