Jerry Saltz on Trisha Donnelly’s Artist Choice at MoMA
The Best of the Basement
Rooting through MoMA’s century of deep storage for her “Artist’s Choice” show, Trisha Donnelly reveals herself.
…She said she was after “striking voices I couldn’t let go of … paths of encounters and building poetic structures … images that go beyond the images themselves.” One of the three permanent-collection galleries she’s filled is devoted to the little-known mid-century photographer Eliot Porter, who shot birds with cameras and techniques of his own invention. (He also documented newborn spiders and the life cycle of the mosquito.) Calling Porter “an amazing weirdo,” Donnelly pointed at pictures of birds feeding their young, nesting, and in mid-flight, and said, “That birds still exist now is a miracle. The speed of their lives is so different from ours … There’s such an insanity and logic of birds.” Insanity and logic together are keys to Donnelly’s aesthetic. Pointing at a picture I hadn’t noticed before, she said, “That hummingbird is a heroic force.” I looked. Boom! It became a tiny god. Gesturing at a barn swallow twisting in midair, she observed, “Every bird Porter saw was a path … when he shot images, lines between him and the bird exploded”…