The Six Best Exhibits of 2018

Imagery That Changed Our Lives

Now and Zen 1, El Mirage series, by Herb Ritts

BY: Jes Zurell

Peter Hujar at Morgan Library

Peter Hujar. Self Portrait
Candy Darling. © Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

The beauty – and danger – of photography is that it renders complex subjects into the simple, contained space of a screen or print. The more we make a habit of scrolling through Instagram, the easier it is to forget the moments before and after the one caught on film. Photographer Peter Hujar (1934–1987) idolized such intricate terrain and devoted his career to “uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects.” The misfits, the punks, the drag queens, the underbellies of the East Village all captivated him, and us, too, at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York earlier this year.


Eugene Richards at ICP

Eugene Richards photograph
Still House Hollow, Tennessee, 1986. By Eugene Richards.


Photographer Eugene Richards translated the truth frame by frame in “Eugene Richards: The Run-On of Time,” which opened at the International Center of Photography on September 28 and runs through January 6, 2019. The show honors Richards’s five-decade career by curating his work thematically rather than chronologically. We struggled to breathe under the gravity of it all when we noticed how the truth in his photographs – much like history, itself – repeats in diverse circumstances, as a reminder that societies have learned very little.


Henri Cartier-Bresson at ICP

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment (Simon & Schuster, 1952), p. 57, Downtown, Manhattan, New York, UnitedStates, 1947. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.


Everyone has a story, but not all stories hold our attention, even in the case of artists and photographers. Many follow predictable paths toward addiction and untimely death, or toward off-the-chain success. However, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the foundational French sugar daddy of street photography, is a rare exception. In celebration of the International Center of Photography’s exhibition, Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment, PROVOKR dug up a steamy story about Cartier-Bresson’s formative years. Check it out.

Helen Levitt at Lawrence Miller Gallery

Woman in an apartment window, by Helen Levitt
Helen Levitt. New York, 1972.


We’re willing to bet that today, no creative medium gets off to the beat of the Big Apple as much as photography–and it’s impossible to celebrate those images without toasting to Helen LevittHelen Levitt: Five Decades showed at Laurence Miller Gallery in New York from November 8 and through December 22, 2018. The show featured vintage prints gifted by Levitt to James Agee and his family in throughout the 20th century. Definitely life-changing work not to be missed.


Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography at the Getty Museum

Woman's back in Vintage Corset
The Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939. Gelatin silver print. Horst P. Horst, Vogue, September 15, 1939, © Condé Nast. Courtesy Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles.


Fashion photography in the 1980s and 1990s idolized taut bodies, sexuality, and the newly-dubbed supermodel. Tracing deeper into history, the genre elevated the mod look of the 1960s and its harlequin textiles. There’s the corseted figures of the early 20th century, the prim tailoring of the 1940s, and the mystère élegant of the 1920s, but the raw power of this show is not in its breadth or flexibility – it’s in each individual photo. This star-studded show is the perfection to which we compare every single image we see going forward.


Araki Unbound at Museum of Sex

Nobuyoshi Araki_Flowers, Yamorinski (Bondage) 1989. Courtesy of Private Collection.


Without knowing the full story, it would be easy to look at this show and think it was about the people caught inside the photographer’s frame. This time, perhaps more than any other show we’ve covered to date, we implore you to think about the kind of man who was behind the lens.