'One Hour Photo,' at the Katzen Arts Center

By Jessica Dawson
Friday, May 7, 2010

Sorry, no art here!

In a heroic stroke of self-abnegation, conceptual artist Adam Good devised an exhibition that's not really an exhibition. It's a show, yes, but the images on view are disposable and will be disposed of -- after just a single hour on view.

To that end, the three curators behind "One Hour Photo" have declared an image embargo, refusing to show even one of the 128 photographs submitted by 128 artists that will be projected, one at a time, for 60 minutes only, during the 128-hour exhibition that opens Saturday evening at the Katzen Arts Center.

But "One Hour Photo" isn't about pictures, anyway. By forcing a shelf life on an art object -- you can't go back to see the picture you liked; you can't later tell your friends to see it, either -- "One Hour Photo" takes aim at a Facebooking, Twittering world of mediated experience. We're so busy reading about other people's experiences that we have fewer and fewer experiences of our own. In "One Hour Photo," you either see the picture or you don't.

So what does this say about photography? The discipline's stalwarts have watched problems mount. Extreme accessibility (thanks, digital cameras) has created mountains of (often) useless images and a huge population of photographers. "One Hour Photo" acknowledges that, but also -- curiously, inversely -- reacts to photography's emergence as an expensive, exclusive medium on par with painting, where massively scaled, limited-edition archival prints command steep prices.

Once a myth-busting force, photography as an art form emerged to challenge the supremacy of the single art object. Why fetishize a single Leonardo when a run of prints will do? In the 1930s, when theorist Walter Benjamin declared that camera reproductions had destroyed the aura of the single, quasi-religious art object, academics and artists cheered the opening of the art world to the masses.

But by showing a picture for just one hour and then never again, "One Hour Photo" sullies photography's reputation. It's as if "One Hour Photo" were throwing up a handful of Leonardos every day -- both making and destroying them in the same hour.

The brainchild of Good, 29, the show is a way to dial back time, sales and endless replications.

(You'll know Good from his work with art collective WE ARE SCIENCE!, the two-person force behind December's "Art is____" event at the Phillips Collection. Good also gathered a troupe of business suit-clad friends to muck it up in last summer's Washington Project for the Arts-sponsored SynchroSwim event at the Capitol Skyline Hotel pool.)

"So many experiences are tied to some next action, like purchasing or coming back and seeing or telling your friends or Twitter sharing and posting," Good says.

"This show takes it back to how we experience the world in the first place," says Chandi Kelley, 28, one of a pair of photographers Good recruited to help curate his exhibition. "You blink your eye and it's gone."

Per a nonbinding release, each participant agrees "never to reproduce, display, sell, or otherwise expose to the public the submitted work" after uploading it to the exhibition's server.

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