Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective

I love observing people, and it's lucky for me that New York City is especially conducive and receptive to that practice. Whether watching families in Central Park or scrutinizing faces on the subway, one finds in this city an endless canvas of humanity.

It is just this type of inspection Rineke Dijkstra invites in the retrospective body of work currently presented at the Guggenheim. Raising questions about the relationship between photographer, subject, and viewer (a topic serving as the focus of am upcoming scholarly panel at the museum on September 21st), Dijkstra's photographs and especially her movies permit unusual opportunities to contemplate her subjects' modes of self-expression, both conscious and not. She investigates various ways of lessening the "posing" inherent to the making of her portraits, and she traverses a fascinatingly wide range of individuals and circumstances. Some are invested with a backstory that make them particularly poignant, like her renderings over time of Bosnian refugee Almerisa. Others work in conjunction to make a more general statement—as in her New Mothers series—even as their comparison highlights the individuality of each sitter.


Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Dijkstra's recent expansion into video work allows the addition of additional avenues of expression: movement and, in one instance, speech. Capturing various modes of dancing at clubs in Liverpool and the Netherlands, two films allow the audience to ponder the dichotomy between the performative and highly personal interpretation of music through motion, and the sometimes highly evident self-consciousness of the performer. For me it had two additional effects: disturbance at the often revealing dress and excessively made-up appearances of very young-looking girls, and relief that I am not alone in employing endlessly repetitive motions on the dance floor. It was also fun to share this viewing experience—and laughter—with other visitors.


Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Most compelling, I felt, was the film I See A Woman Crying (Weeping Woman) (2009), in which several school children verbally reflect on a Picasso painting that is never visible to the audience. While this video piece does further exemplify Dijkstra's overall interest in subject-photographer-viewer relationships, and the ideas of exchange and response in general, I found it astounding for the way in which it conveys the seemingly infinite depths of inventiveness exhibited by these children. What imagination! It was fascinating to see their fondness for constructing narratives, and to perceive the power of suggestion at work as each student's statement seemed to mold classmates' subsequent responses. It's a captivating revelation of perception and thought processes, and the exhibition as a whole is an engaging introduction to and survey of Dijkstra's career thus far.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is on view until October 8, 2012 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue at 89th Street (directions). Closed Thursday, the museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:45 pm Sun. - Wed. and Fri., 10:00 am to 7:45 pm on Saturday. Admission is pay what you wish on Saturdays from 5:45 pm to 7:45 pm; at all other times admission price is: $22 for adults, $18 for seniors and students with ID, free for children under 12 and members. Note that museum admission is also covered by certain package passes.

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