Snap chat: ‘Talking Pictures’ at the Met, New York
By Ariella Budick
The smartphone has had a bad rap in the art world. Selfie sticks proliferate in museums, turning paintings and sculpture into backdrops for the theatre of narcissism. Insta-images glut the visual environment with photographic debris, making it harder than ever to sift the inventive from the trite. Only a few museums have winnowed technology’s dross for flecks of gold. Mia Fineman, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum, wanted to see what talented people could do with a tool that has become banal, so she enlisted a dozen artists to spend five months swapping images by phone with partners of their choosing. No words allowed.
With thoroughness and flair, the Met has assembled more than 1,800 images across various media, styles and sensibilities. Dialogues take place in printed books and on screens, walls and tablets. The results of this virtual meet-up range from charming to dazzlingly eloquent. Ubiquitous smartphones have turned photography from an instrument of memory to an agent of expressive urgency — “a fluid, instantaneous, ephemeral medium, closer to speaking than to writing,” Fineman writes — and the appeal of Talking Pictures lies in its spontaneity and diamond-edged repartee. And just as the world can be divided between lecturers, listeners and conversationalists, so some artists here embrace the back-and-forth while others deal out their own thoughts like cards, without paying much heed to what their inbox brings.