Photography has embraced bad taste more than any other art form. It turned it into a stylistic device: an expression of irony, both grounded in reality and distanced from it, and characterized by a certain offhandedness. As if photography, once it had proven its artistic value, had outgrown its complexes and taken the liberty of turning resolutely towards that which is ugly, ordinary, or worse: kitsch.
To wit: the bad taste and mediocre quality of those gaudy colors (yellow, red, and that god-awful unidentified brown on the plates) in the work of a virtuoso black and white photographer: Garry Winogrand. Here, the man who elevated street photography to the rank of art through his gaze, which uniquely combines voracity and finesse, is devouring with his eyes a tray of American fast food, attracted to its bright colors like a fly to its odors. On the menu: ketchup, mustard and… lack of taste? Yet this photograph catches the eye: the geometry of the tubes, the saturation of the colors, and the quality of the light are satisfying to the viewer.
Let’s check the date: 1966. Pop Art was in full swing. Andy Warhol was making art with soup cans and laundry detergent boxes, fully embracing the banality of everyday life and objects to erect them as modern icons. He wasn’t the only one. In 1962, Claes Oldenburg turned a double cheeseburger into an unappetizing sculpture exhibited at the MoMA in New York. As for Wayne Thiebaud, he painted American desserts, those pies, cakes, and ice cream dishes served in diners, with the fascinated gaze of a child and the skill of an outstanding colorist. American art and cuisine are here to prove that sometimes, bad taste can be a good thing.
By Camille Balenieri
Garry Winogrand: Color
May 3 – December 8, 2019
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York 11238-6052