The National Gallery is currently focussing on showing us how the old masters have influenced contemporary artists. First we had the Titian exhibition and currently the late works of Richard Hamilton are on display. This latest exhibition is exploring how photographers have been influenced by classical paintings, by hanging them alongside each other.
This can be a risky approach as it can make the more modern artists look derivative, as we saw when Tate Britain compared modern British art to Picasso. This isn’t so much of a problem as many of the original works that inspired these photographers aren’t here, only reproductions. We have no issue with this as the photographs are supposed to be the main draw and there are some great examples on display.
The problem is that many visitors will be left confused by this show as it can’t seem to decide whether it’s an exhibition comparing paintings to photographs or whether it’s a guided history of the evolution of the modern photograph. It should focus on the former but it ends up covering neither satisfactorily.
Despite this muddled approach there are some sensational diptychs that contrast classical with contemporary works. Rineke Dijkstra’s girl in a bathing suit is clearly inspired by Botticelli’s birth of Venus but seems voyeuristic in contrast to the latter being an appreciation of beauty. Also of note is Ori Gersht who freezes bouquets of flowers then photographs them as they are blown up with tiny explosive charges – a real contrast to the adjacent yet serene still lifes.
Maisie Broadhead demonstrates that contemporary art can also be influenced by early photographs. Her timelapse video recreating Hill and Adamson’s photograph of Elizabeth Rigby using a living model is a creative and fitting tribute.
The lack of focus in curation works against this exhibition, which is a shame as there are some excellent works on display demonstrating that photography is a contemporary art form that can be just as inspiring and impressive as painting.
Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present is on at the National Gallery until 20 January. Tickets are £12, concessions available.