Just had a chance to see one of the two exciting shows at NYPL’s Performing Arts Library, as mentioned by elssler1: “Focus on the 70s: The Fabulous Photography of Kenn Duncan.” Fabulous, indeed. The photographs are quite stunning and capture the fun and carefree, sometimes tacky beauty of my favorite decade. Seeing almost iconic images of many of the almost completely forgotten major (and minor) stars of the period, as well as glamor shots of young, up-and-comers who wound up turning into industry giants, is enough to keep one smiling throughout the gallery stroll. Arthur Mitchell’s shot, with dapper fedora and New York backdrop, is especially wonderful.
My big complaint, though, is the decided lack of information provided in the exhibit and the decision that was made by the curator to provide nothing but photographs or copies of photographs and reproductions of magazine covers. A display case featuring actual magazines and some other Duncan and period ephemera would have been a nice addition. And more detailed information about Duncan’s life and work, as well as some pieces written by friends and colleagues, would have made the exhibit feel less impersonal. I am thinking of the vast array of material and the general care that was displayed in the Jerome Robbins exhibit and cannot help but feel a little let down about this one. Also, let’s face it, an exhibit that highlights the 70s really needs to be as wild and silly (and outlandish) as possible. Why was the design team not given more liberty to go a little crazy?
In the very short program that is provided for the exhibit, there is a paragraph that reads: “Kenn Duncan’s reputation as a photographer has undeservedly lain dormant for 20 years. Now is the time to open up his world of singular beauty for a new generation.” To me, this paragraph demonstrates the exhibit’s essential disparity. The unnamed writer of these lines is absolutely correct that a celebration of Duncan and his work is way long overdue; however, why does the writer feel that “now” is the time for this celebration? Of course, I do know what the writer is getting at, but it is clearly not expressed as well as it should be. Accordingly, while the images in this exhibit are extraordinary, the curator has failed to provide substance or context and has not succeeded in adequately affording Duncan the full celebration that he deserves.
Please, though, go and see it! The photographs are a joy to behold.