Artists often turn to dreams as a source of inspiration, a retreat from reason, and a space for exploring imagination and desire. In the history of photography, dream imagery has been most closely associated with the Surrealists, who used experimental techniques to bridge the gap between the camera’s objectivity and the internal gaze of the mind’s eye.
While those modernist explorations were often bound to psychoanalytic theories, other photographers have pursued the world of sleep and dreams through deliberately open-ended works that succeed through evocation rather than description. The exhibition Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video presents 30 photographs and one video drawn from The Met collection, all loosely tied to the subjective yet universal experience of dreaming. The exhibition is on view at the Museum from May 16 through October 30, 2016.
Many of the works take the surrender of sleep as their subject matter. In photographs by Robert Frank, Danny Lyon, and Nan Goldin, recumbent figures appear vulnerable to the wandering gaze of onlookers, yet their inner worlds remain out of reach. Images of bodies floating and falling conjure the tumultuous world of dreams, and landscapes are made strange through the camera’s selective vision.
Highlights include photographs by Paul Graham from his recent series Does Yellow Run Forever (2014); images from Sophie Calle‘s earliest body of work, The Sleepers (1979), in which she invited friends and acquaintances to sleep in her own bed while she watched; and Anselm Kiefer’s Brünnhilde Sleeps (1980), a hand-painted photograph featuring French actress Catherine Deneuve recast as a Wagnerian Valkyrie. Also featured are recently acquired works by Shannon Bool, Sarah Anne Johnson, Jim Shaw, and Fred Tomaselli.
Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video is organized by Mia Fineman, Associate Curator; and Beth Saunders, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.