Collective Presence, Collective Resistance

The fierce pussy collective challenge lesbian and queer invisibility by asserting their identities through a number of public projects that push back against heteronormative culture. The increased attention to AIDS and gay rights in the early 1990s galvanized the group of queer artists to establish a collective. One of their early projects juxtaposed their baby photos with text that related to social assumptions about gender presentation, relationships, and identity. In one image, an infant in a striped pinafore is captioned with “DYKE” in large type. The crudely photocopied image reads as even more offensive when the viewer is confronted with a homophobic slur. By layering words or phrases traditionally used to incite negative judgment on top of their own baby photos, the group is able to reclaim hate speech while making a compassionate observation about societal pressures to label individuals from a young age. Additionally, the use of personal photographs creates a tension between the struggle for personal identity and a collective representation of lesbian or queer peoples.
fierce pussy collective, Dyke, 1991-95, (1161.2000)

The collective’s projects are largely based in street advertisement, using tactics such as wheat paste posters, redesigning and renaming public spaces, and public distribution of buttons and stickers. However, unlike traditional advertisements, the content of their work is not easily absorbed due to the intentional use of provocative language. fierce pussy confronts the passive consumer with messages designed to unsettle them.

fierce_pussy_1145_2000fierce pussy collective, Are you a boy or a girl?, 1991-95, (1145.2000)

fierce pussy’s work gains its power from the space between perception, identification, and our relation to society. Friction develops within their compositions—while visually minimalistic, the content is not easily digestible. Tension builds between the “impersonal” object (wheat paste poster, road sign) and captions that speak directly to the viewer with sincerity. More contradictions arise from fierce pussy’s choice of subject matter as they address and question sexuality, gender presentation, feminism, and power structures all in the public space—directly challenging social taboos.

fierce_pussy_1144_2000fierce pussy collective, Fierce Pussy’s Street Wheat-Pasting Campaign, 1991-95, (1144.2000)

The collective still works today, with their most recent exhibition at White Columns gallery in New York, September–October 2010.

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From Whence The Clouds They Came

Frank Wendt, Jump from the Clouds with the Aid of a Parachute, 1899 (2011.47.123)

Robert Capa, [Student makes first jump from 300m, Parachute School, Paris], Fall 1935 (197.1992)

Robert Capa, [French air force parachute school at Avignon-Pujaut], 1939 (2010.85.570)

Martin Munkacsi, [Student pilots with parachutes, Schleissieim flying school, near Munich], 1928 (2009.6.9)

Robert Capa, [Students gather up parachute after landing, Parachute School, Paris], Fall 1935 (202.1992)

Jill Freedman, Riding It Down, 1971 (1.1978.b)

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Bermuda Race June 20th, 2014

Every two years in mid June sailors descend upon Rhode Island to enter a race that will have them travel 635 nautical miles to the finish line on the island of Bermuda. The Bermuda Race, as it is called, was founded in 1906, making it one of the oldest regularly scheduled ocean sailing races. The record for the best elapsed time (39 hours, 39 minutes, 18 seconds) was set in 2012 by the 90ft maxi yacht, Rambler. There are over 180 boats competing in 2014, ranging from 30 to 90 feet. This race can take up to 5 days, depending on the type of boat and weather.  As sailors are settling in for what could be a long haul, let us look back on some great images from the past. Best of luck to all boats and their crew, especially Old School.

Jill Freedman, Sailing Homeward, County Galway, 1984, (32.1988)

Jill Freedman, Fisherman, County Galway, (1984, 5.1988)

Martin Muckacsi, glass plate negatives
Martin Munkacsi, [Two men atop mast of sailboat, Wannsee Lake, Berlin], ca. 1929, (2007.110.119)

capa_4x5 007
Robert Capa, [Sailing race, Lofoten Islands, Hankoe, Norway], 1951 (2013.92.117)


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Truth in advertising

Often a distinction is made between “commercial” and “artistic” photography but as these works show a photograph can be both at the same time.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El Sistema Nervioso Del Gran Simpatico, ca. 1929 (1.1979.b)


Gjon Mili, Powder Puff (Vogue), 1943 (8.1998)

Kyle, [Advertisement for Axel Mirano's amusement apparatus, the Auto Flying Torpedo], 1919-20 (897.1990)


Gordon Coster, [Advertisement for Venetian blinds], 1930s (2010.119.17)

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Lou Bernstein Can’t Swim

For over 30 years Lou Bernstein spent mornings at the New York Aquarium photographing the lives of the resident sea animals. In his 1992 New York Times Article, The Dance of a Dolphin, Forever Frozen on Film, John Durniak states, “his photographs reveal the lives and social structure of the undersea inhabitants”. He then states, “Every photo is just a fleeting moment that he was lucky to capture on film.”

The director of the aquarium at the time, Louis E. Garibaldi, called Bernstein’s images “short-lived phenomena — unique interaction between whales, between dolphins. One would have to wait for hundreds of hours for them to occur. None of his pictures are staged, air-brushed or manipulated in any way. They are real.”

Bernstein’s appreciation of these animals, who appear to defy gravity, is all the more poiniant given that he could not swim. The submarine dance he depicted was of a world that he could not possibly enter; except photographically from behind glass.


Lou Bernstein, N.Y. Aquarium, 1988, (92.1992)

Lou Bernstein, N.Y. Aquarium, 1971, (98.1992)


Lou Bernstein, N.Y. Aquarium, 1975, (100.1992)

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A Spectator Sport

Morris Gordon [Fans watching horse races, Jamaica Bay, New York], 1948 (2012.121.34)

There is much more to horse racing than the race itself. While the appeal of racing horses has long stemmed from the masculine superiority demonstrated in the sheer competition of the race, the social world of the track provided an opportunity to demonstrate superiority of a different kind. Those who occupied aristocratic social classes were offered the chance to display their wealth which in turn solidified social status and authority. It was the social world of the clubhouse and the private boxes that shaped the aspirational nature of a sport that was, historically, quite often restricted to the gentry simply due to financial privilege.

Martin Munkacsi [Spectators at race track, Saratoga Springs, New York], ca. 1934 (2007.110.1321)

While such displays of social status are no longer quite as ostentatious as they once were, there are still elements of the grand pomp and revelry surrounding horse racing that are enticing to a wide variety of people. Today, race-goers vary in interest: there are those who come to place bets, those who come to participate in the social environment of the clubhouse and various jockey’s clubs and other exclusive events, and those who come to watch the race purely for the enjoyment of the sport. One only needs to spend an afternoon at a racetrack to witness the mixing of revelers from very different backgrounds enjoying themselves.

Nowhere is this varied group of spectators more evident than at big stakes races, particularly the three that make up the Triple Crown: The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes. Running since 1875, 1873 and 1867 respectively, the three jewels of the Triple Crown are often considered the biggest events in the United States horse racing season. There are few who win all three races, and there hasn’t been a winner since Affirmed in 1978. The suspense of whether there will finally be another to join the pantheon of Triple Crown winners is enough to entice even the most novice of spectators.

Martin Munkacsi [Spectators at horse race track, Saratoga Springs, New York], ca. 1934 (2007.110.1329)

Robert Capa 937
Robert Capa [Watching the horse races with binoculars, Deauville, France], August 1951 (3236.1992)

Margaret Bourke-White Gloomy view of the race track at Churchill Downs submerged in water from the surging Ohio River, 1937 (1645.2005)

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Jerry Uelsmann’s Lesser Seen Images

Jerry Uelsmann, Little Golden Hamburger Tree, 1970, (516.1994)

Jerry Uelsmann, Workshop Print, Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois, 1973, (165.1980)

Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled, 1977, (126.1981)

Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled, 1992, (2011.78.26)

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