From the MCA Collection: Kenneth Josephson

By Steven L. Bridges

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Kenneth Josephson, Chicago, 1980, 1980. Gelatin silver print, pre-edition proof; framed: 17 x 21 in. (43.2 x 53.3 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the artist, 2014.7 Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

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Last week thirteen works of art were displayed in our Kovler Atrium for acquisition consideration by our Collection Committee. Curatorial Assistant Steven L. Bridges highlights another work of art that was acquired earlier this year and reflects on the importance of collecting.

on the work

Few artists working today have expanded the conceptual parameters of photography as much as Chicago-based Kenneth Josephson. Born in 1932 in Detroit, Josephson first gained notoriety in the early 1960s for what became his signature style: playfully challenging established photographic codes, particularly the ardent belief in the veracity of the camera’s eye and its ability to document the world around us with “scientific” rigor. More often than not, the subject of his photographs is the medium itself, and his role within its process of creation.

Josephson’s conceptual approach to photography has persisted throughout his career, and he continues to explore the relationships between authorship, photographic processes, and the production of meaning. MCA Curator Lynne Warren organized Josephson’s first major museum retrospective at the MCA in 1983, and commented in her catalogue essay that, in Josephson’s work, “The photograph is revealed to be a photograph.” If this type of self-reflexivity seems commonplace today, it is very much the result of Josephson’s artistic legacy and his influence on the many generations of artists who passed under his tutelage—he taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for more than 35 years, among many other notable colleges and universities.

This longstanding interest shaped the suite of four photographs that entered the MCA Collection in January 2014, which herald from the 1970s and early 1980s—a time when Josephson actively questioned the sanctity of the picture frame, often through his own physical interventions (as is the case with Chicago, 1980). The photographs in this group reveal different strategies the artist employed to interrogate the medium, expanding the conversation among Josephson’s works already a part of the collection—which now include eight photographs and one collage—and within the museum’s significant holdings of conceptual photography.

The MCA’s recent Josephson acquisition reflects its commitment to collecting works by important Chicago-based artists—and by artists with whom it has a meaningful history. (Josephson has exhibited at the MCA many times.) This acquisition also recognizes the artist’s role as a catalyst for developments in the field: at the core of Josephson’s work is a critical understanding of photography’s paradoxical nature—as both document and creative act.

This post first appeared in MCA Chicago (Summer 2014).