Are there too many images in the world? A new exhibition looking at our compulsive fascination with the proliferation of photographs, A Trillion Sunsets: A Century of Image Overload, will be on view at the International Center of Photography (ICP) from January 28 through May 2, 2022. Curated by David Campany, ICP’s managing director of programs, A Trillion Sunsets explores mass media excess and image over-saturation through more than 50 works from the 1920s to today.
Among the photographs, books, and films on view in A Trillion Sunsets, including images from ICP’s collection, will be works by Nakeya Brown, Robert Capa, Walker Evans, Hannah Höch, Justine Kurland, Louise Lawler, Barbara Morgan, Richard Prince, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Pacifico Silano, Sheida Soleimani, Hank Willis Thomas, Andy Warhol, Carrie Mae Weems, and Guanyu Xu.
The exhibition will be showcased in ICP’s downtown building at 79 Essex Street in New York, which opened in January 2020 and unites the museum and ICP’s school for first time in over 20 years. On view concurrently will be Actual Size! Photography at Life Scale, which features photographs that are uncanny dimensional doubles for the objects they depict.
From picture scrapbooks to internet memes, to collage and image appropriation, to art made by algorithms, A Trillion Sunsets offers powerful insights and new perspectives on our long love-hate relationship with images, highlighting unlikely parallels and connections across decades.
With the rapid increase in illustrated magazines and newspapers in the 1920s, commentators began to ask whether society could survive the visual inundation. Since then, the art movements of Dada, Surrealism, Pop, Situationism, Conceptualism, and Postmodernism were all, in different ways, horrified and mesmerized by the seemingly endless image supply. Artists have cast a critical eye over the clichés, stereotypes, and repetitive pictures, and looked to unearth alternative histories and counter-narratives, re-presenting and reinterpreting forgotten images and archives.
“Have your way with images, or they will have their way with you,” says curator David Campany. “With this exhibition we explore very contemporary questions in the context of a rich and fascinating history.”
A Trillion Sunsets: A Century of Image Overload opens with pioneering photo collagist Hannah Hӧch’s Album, 1933, for which she collected, cut, and pasted images in resistance to the emerging media stereotypes and the specter of German fascism. In the era of Instagram and Pinterest mood boards, Hӧch’s dissection of formulaic images is a revelation, and feels thoroughly contemporary.
Nakeya Brown’s If Nostalgia Were Colored Brown, 2015, is a series of still life compositions combining the covers of record albums by Black women musicians and cosmetic products. Sumptuous yet pensive, her work asks viewers to look again at the history of beauty standards. Brown’s photographs hang in the exhibition next to an advertising photo of a white woman’s eye reflected in a cosmetic compact mirror. The image is a 1983 appropriation by Richard Prince, a key figure of the Pictures Generation, who reworked media images in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Justine Kurland dismantles canonical photobooks by white men, reconfiguring their contents as intricate collages to release unseen desires and new aesthetic possibilities. With each book, Kurland removes the pages and makes her collages on the inside of its cover, as if to suggest her work was always there, a hidden potential that has finally emerged. One of the books Kurland remakes is by Harry Callahan, a photographer who himself made a series of meticulous collages in the 1950s, some of which are also on view in the exhibition.
Walker Evans’s classic Penny Picture Display, 1936, is an image of 210 portrait photos, observed through the window of a commercial photographer’s studio in Savannah, Georgia. Photographs appear constantly within Evans’s photographs. He grasped, earlier than most, that photographs are simply part of the modern environment, and that to not photograph them would be a misrepresentation of our era.
For more information regarding accompanying programming, please visit icp.org/events for event announcements.
About the Curator
David Campany is a curator, writer, and managing director of programs at the International Center of Photography, New York. His books include On Photographs (2020), A Handful of Dust (2015), Art and Photography (2003), Jeff Wall: Picture for Women (2011), Walker Evans: The Magazine Work (2014), and Photography and Cinema (2008).
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Image: Harry Callahan, Collages, ca. 1957. International Center of Photography, Gift of Louis F. Fox, 1980 (76.1980) © The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace Gallery
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