March 11, 2008

Doty disgusts and delights at MCA

When featuring a new artist, a museum always runs the risk of displaying art that is not quite in tune with popular taste. While viewing a collection of photographs at the Museum of Contemporary Art by up-and-coming artist Craig Doty, there was, to say the least, a wide array of reactions. A young woman loudly paraded into the exhibit, exclaimed, “Ew!” and proceeded to tell her friends not to enter the room; a toddler strolled by with her parents and asked why the pictures looked like the characters in her Dr. Seuss books; and a seemingly mature couple viewing the photographs giggled and immediately ran away. These reactions may raise the question, “If no one can even take the work seriously, then why would a museum feature it?” But among the laughs and expressions of disgust were reactions that appeared to genuinely display shock, intrigue, and surprise, all of which the curators noted Doty hoped to evoke in his photographs.

This month Doty is being featured in the UBS 12x12 gallery, where risks are taken in order to get this type of dramatic emotional response from viewers. The UBS gallery, according to its walls, “Showcases the work of emerging local artists, providing an up-to-the-minute view of cultural developments in the city.” The monthly installations coincide with the MCA’s first Friday events and give exposure to artists that have the talent to elicit raw emotion.

Doty’s collection of seven untitled photographs captures the pure emotion of the subjects while communicating fear, trauma, and distress to the viewers. His pictures capture the subjects just as an action is preemptively about to occur or just after the slightest movement. In “Untitled 5,” a teenager is shown in her neon green room in the middle of an emotional outburst worthy of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen. The picture captures the inhalation of breath just before another scream is belted out. Similarly, “Untitled 1” shows a man with his eyes rolled back into his head and a slight grin appearing on his face, either portraying the moments after an orgasm or the aftereffects of a drug-induced high. Any precise explanation for what is happening in the picture may be difficult to pin down because only the man’s face can be seen, but the curiosity that Doty creates is undeniable. Doty’s voyeuristic perspective into these private moments of anger and joy separates his work from traditional photographs and gives the pictures a true voice. “Untitled 4” captures an overweight man with food dribbled on his beard, sitting in a room covered by beer cans and old Chinese takeout containers. This moment of complete anguish is not only captured on the man’s face but also in the setting Doty creates.

Though the untitled stills are all orchestrated beforehand, they still maintain their spontaneity because the circumstances seem natural for the subjects. “Untitled 3” presents a man with blood dripping down his face after a fight, leisurely holding a cigarette in the back seat of 1970s sports car. The man’s relaxed posture shows that this may be a normal occurrence for him, and though the figure may not be moving, Doty captures the subject’s restful state and lets the viewer know that this is meant to be a serene moment.

Doty’s collection has a beginner’s edge that allows it to be unapologetic and unyielding. Each new picture takes the viewer into a world completely different from that of the last photograph and evokes exactly the same emotion that its subject is experiencing. As an emerging artist, Doty shows great potential for later works that, on a much larger scale, will initiate discussions and question conventional photography.

It is true that museums like the MCA do run the risk of isolating certain patrons when featuring an artist like Doty. But without risks, how does one progress? This month’s UBS 12x12 shows that by taking a chance on art, museum-goers will encounter a collection of photographs that unrelentingly and unforgettably capture distress and joy.