A recent trip to New York suggests that the contemporary art world is in love with photographs, whether they're scanned from a computer, painted with a brush or made the old-fashioned way with a camera.
Mine was admittedly a hurried sample - a couple of big museum exhibits, plus the annual Armory Show, also known as the International Fair of New Art, and a smattering of galleries. But I couldn't help noticing the ubiquity of photographic imagery in the most ambitious venues.
The Museum of Modern Art, for instance, is mounting a major retrospective of the German-born painter Gerhard Richter, whose work alternates between abstract expressionist-style gestural painting and figurative canvases based on photographs.
Richter, an elusive figure who resists artistic and ideological certainties, seems intent on proving he can do both the ab-ex painterly thing and the pop-inspired photo thing with equal aplomb.
Yet Richter's paintings from photographs - news pictures, family snapshots, even school graduation portraits - are emotionally so compelling that it's likely he will be remembered far more for them than for his pure abstractions.
Over at Piers 88 and 90 on the Hudson River, the International Fair of New Art was chockablock with photography from all over the world, much of it consisting of large, glossy color prints of the sort that would have been dismissed as mere commercial or advertising art 20 years ago. That such pictures are being accepted today as serious artworks is a measure of the pervasive influence photography has exerted on contemporary art across the board.
At Pier 88 I also ran into Martha Macks, owner of Baltimore's Goya Girl Press, which turned out to be one of only a handful of non-New York-based, U.S. galleries in the show.
Goya Girl, which represents such Baltimore-based artists as Joyce Scott, Luis Flores, Timothy App, Jo Smail and Howie Lee Weiss, seemed right at home alongside galleries from Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, London and Vienna as well as the big contingent from New York.
In addition to her Baltimore artists, Macks also was showing works on paper by Liliana Porter, Christian Marclay, Mark Strand, Louisa Chase and Madeleine Keesing, whose large-scale abstract paintings recently were the subject of a one-woman show at Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The growing importance of photography in contemporary art probably has benefited small galleries like Goya Girl by raising the profile of all works on paper, which traditionally were considered less important than oil paintings and sculpture. Goya Girl is a printmaking workshop staffed by master printers who work directly with the artists the gallery represents.