Art Review: Seduced By Art - Photography @ National Gallery

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 137 months ago
Art Review: Seduced By Art - Photography @ National Gallery
Digital c-type print 125 x 96 cm

Sara Myerscough Gallery
Maisie Maud Broadhead Keep Them Sweet, 2010.Represented by Sarah Myerscough Fine Art, London Image © Maisie Broadhead
Light jet print on aluminium 250 x 183 cm
Ori Gersht Blow-Up: Untitled 5, 2007. © Courtesy of the Artist and Mummery + Schnelle, London
Gold Toned albumen print mounted on original card 40.3 x 29.1 cm
James Anderson (?) The Laocoön Group, about 1855–65. Wilson Centre for Photography
Unique Ilfachrome Print 149.8 x 121.9 cm

collection of the artist
Richard Learoyd Man with Octopus Tattoo II, 2011. © Richard Learoyd, courtesy McKee Gallery New York
Framed Lightjet print on Auminium 122 x 155 cm
Southampton City Art Gallery
Richard Billingham Hedgerow (New Forest), 2003. Southampton City Art Gallery (11/2004) © The Artist, courtesy of the Anthony Reynolds Gallery London
Digital C Print  138.7 x 300 cm

Wilson Centre for Photography London
Luc Delahaye 132nd Ordinary Meeting of the Conference, 2004. Wilson Centre for Photography Courtesy Luc Delahaye and Galerie Nathalie Obadia

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.

Last Updated 03 November 2012