“You Shoulda’ Been There: Vernacular Snapshots” at David Lusk

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Peter J. Cohen is a collector of other peoples photographs. By scouring estate sales and flea markets over the last 20 years he has collected 1000s upon 1000s of forgotten photographs by anonymous photographers. He has organized this multitudinous collection of images into groups such as “Landscapes,” “Women in Groups of Three,” and “Christmas Trees.”

In 2010, Cohen donated more than 250 photographs to the Museum of Modern Art. The Art Institute of Chicago has a large group as well and even published a companion book for their “The Three Graces” exhibition of these prints. He is currently in talks with other institutions about further donations of his photographs to their collection.

Opening tomorrow night at the David Lusk Gallery is “You Shoulda’ Been There, Vernacular Snapshots.” I would be curious to know which group the 17 photographs in this exhibition belong. There are dogs smoking pipes, buildings, baseball players, and double exposed prints (a particular favorite of Cohen's), so a little something of everything.

Also interesting is the notion of Cohen as a collector. Sure, he collects art besides old photographs, Pop prints in particular. But is this really a collection from a collector? It seems like an obsession. The kind of obsession that compels an artist to make work in the first place. David Lusk Gallery is in the business of selling art from artists. Perhaps in this case, it would be better to think of Cohen as an artist who appropriates the work of others into his practice. It might sound like a stretch, but it works for me.

Image courtesy of Peter J. Cohen and the David Lusk Gallery

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