“Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan,” on view at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City through February 2, 2020, combines a 60-year retrospective of the photographer’s work with an exhibition he curated from the museum’s collection. Together, the two shows offer a tour of Michals’ mind.
Contemplative, confessional, and comedic, the art of Duane Michals exerts an appeal that transcends the conventional audience of photography. For him, photography is not documentary in nature but theatrical and fictive: the camera is one of many tools humanity uses to construct a comprehensive version of reality.
Since the early 1960s, Michals has worked past what he sees as the limitations of the camera: He writes in the margins of his prints, creates sequences of images that explore intangible human dilemmas (doubt, mortality, desire), and derives poetic effects from technical errors such as double exposure and motion blur.
“Illusions of the Photographer” is a full six-decade career retrospective (he’s 87 now!) — the first on Michals to be organized by a New York City museum. It’s also an artist’s-choice show. The Morgan let Michals plumbs the museum’s vaults for treasures both revered and long-forgotten.
Michals leads viewers on a tour of some of his heroes and mentors, including William Blake, Edward Lear, and Saul Steinberg. He’s also chosen to show inspiring work by stage designers, toy-makers, and his fellow portraitists of the past and the present.
The retrospective portion of the exhibition is organized around animating themes in Michals’ work: Theater, Reflection, Love and Desire, Playtime, Image and Word, Nature, Immortality, Time, Death and Illusion. It showcases his storytelling instincts, both in stand-alone staged photographs and in sequences.
The exhibition will be accompanied by screenings of short films—Michals’ preferred medium in recent years. An audioguide narrated by the artist will complement a wide-ranging interview in the exhibition’s catalogue.
“Illusions of the Photographer”
The Morgan Library & Museum
Through February 2, 2020
Duane Michals: 60 Years of Inventive Celebrity Portraiture
Duane Michals as Portrait Photographer
Duane Michals: Empty New York