The Art of Crime: Met Museum Showcases Historical Images
By Sonja Hansen
The exhibit Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play, explores evidentiary photography, news shots and artistic portrayals that reveal a fascination with violence.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is showing an installation of about 70 photos taken between 30 and 100 years ago from crime scenes or artworks inspired by “foul play.” Some highlights include images from criminal investigations in American history that have defined and captured our nation’s attention. Among them are shots documenting the events following the assassination of President Lincoln, as well as rare forensic photos like that of John Dillinger’s (the infamous Depression-era gangster) feet at the morgue. Work by artists such as Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon are also included in the collection.
Besides being a record of various violences that occurred in history, some quite shocking, the photos are also at times beautifully striking in the way they reveal quiet moments in the midst of dramatic occurrences. There is surveillance footage where criminals did not know they were being watched. At other times, the perpetrator acknowledges the voyeur by looking into, or even aiming a weapon at, the lens of the surveillance camera. The result is a discomforting realization that we are in awe of the act of crime; by watching, we are participating. The phenomenon is somewhat pornographic in nature: what pleasure do we derive from seeing others’ misfortunes, and the dark acts that humanity inflicts on one another?
The installation’s images may help us to better understand what happened at the scene of the crimes, but may also give us a naked look at the expressions of violence: criminals, too, are vulnerable, while often victims lay prostrate as criminals go free and may or may not pay the consequences. The presentation of these photographs gives occasion for reflection, and reveals an uncomfortable truth; we could be on either side of a crime.
Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play is an installation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in The Howard Gilman Gallery, Gallery 852, 2nd floor and is open from March 7 until July 31 2016. Find it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter via the hashtags #CrimeStories and #MetOnPaper100, and on The Met website.