Joel Meyerowitz, Fireman Spotter, 2001, vintage contact print
Joel Meyerowitz: Aftermath
Miami Art Museum
August 19 - November 6, 2011
To approach a show regarding 9/11 without a quiet degree of solemn sentimentality is, understandably, impossible. Even for a writer who must, upon their own credibility, maintain their distance from nostalgias or traumas associated with that event, the task transforms; from an objective report on the technical and aesthetic principles triggered through the senses to a pointedly cathartic revelation of their own experience compartmentalized between three locations and in less than two tragic hours.
Coping with the battered symbol of triumphant capitalism, soaring instances of personal wealth and the faceless offices of some of the world’s most influential financial groups was not what drove a deeply introspective reconsideration of September 11th. It was coping with crushed wedding rings, missed birthday parties and dinner dates, search dogs depressed from their rescue failures, and teams of watery-eyed, wheezing firemen and police officers overwhelmed by the wounds laid on their community. This is the spirit that Joel Meyerowitz captures in his series Aftermath, now showing at the Miami Art Museum, as the sole photographer granted access to the Ground Zero site as of the morning of September 13th.
Shot at a 1:1 scale, Meyerowitz requires his viewers to physically approach each photograph with searching eyes. Possessing the most precious detail of delicately rendered miniatures, the images are highlighted by search and stadium lights illuminating the threads of ‘bird’s nest’ steel and concrete alongside possible survivors. Meyerowitz accompanies each photograph with a descriptive account of each scene; he prefaces the exhibition in text explaining that after 9/11, the site was designated as a crime scene. Without his primary reporting for each image, vital contexts of the human face lifting itself up from the rubble would disintegrate into endless, repeated instances of mangled structures, red and yellow police tape, gaping voids and a veil of grey dust for the viewer.
In these tiny frames, Meyerowitz documents material and psychological entropy; a breakdown of the façade of New York’s mammoth industrial strength and the sudden trauma enacted on its citizens. But capturing smiles of firefighters, a flag defiantly perched atop the last free-standing steel beam from Tower 1, and a cheeky target sheet painted with Osama Bin Laden’s portrait riddled with bullet holes seem to lift the impending grief and melancholy readily associated with the mere mention of 9/11. These are the images that we’re drawn to; the ones we as Americans take in solace. Mass media proliferation of grotesque imagery of September 11th is too familiar, even dominant. This kind of exhibition is one which aims to raise hopes rather than regurgitating the sickness of that morning and the days following; the title suggests the effects of destruction, the remnants of violence rather than the event itself. Thus, Meyerowitz invites reflection of what is possible beyond catastrophe: above all, love. A love of nation, God, New York as an entity and one’s fellow human being are aspects which, ideally, no amount of atrocity could erase. Indeed, Aftermath is about the future, not the hurtful past.
Joel Meyerowitz, Moving the Monument, 2001, vintage contact print
Joel Meyerowitz, Flower Offering, 2001, vintage contact print
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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