I approached it with trepidation. The Art of Caring: A Look at Life Through Photography, at the New Orleans Museum of Art, was obviously put together with the best of intentions and a roster of great photographers, but could it really live up to its promise? Or would it simply be one of those institutional efforts we are supposed to find deep and moving but which often seem two-dimensional? Perhaps because of its variety, Caring escapes that fate. It is entertaining and quirky, as well as touching, thoughtful and beautifully executed. In fact, it is a great show.
Assembled for NOMA by independent curator Cynthia Goodman, it features more than 200 photographs intended to "explore the moments that shape our being." Divided into seven sections, including "Love," "Children," "Aging" and "Remembering," it is quite thorough. But unlike typical documentary exhibitions, Caring blends classic photojournalism by legendary news photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt and W. Eugene Smith with the work of far more whimsical artists including Arthur Tress, Sally Mann and Nan Goldin, among others. The result is often ironic as well as colorfully compassionate.
Annie Leibovitz sets the tone with a portrait of an elderly man. Look again — it's William S. Burroughs, seemingly ancient at age 80, and a stock geriatric shot suddenly seems much more complex. Another old guy appears with a cute little girl in Marco van Duijvendijk's Eagle Keeper and Granddaughter, Mongolia, an unusual take on the familiar generational-contrast theme. Joel Meyerowitz's Elements (pictured) illustrates "Wellness" in an underwater view of a woman diving in a graceful arc, only it's displayed upside-down so she seems to be flying upward in a surge of bubbles. Albert Chong's Aunt Winnie is elegiac, a black-and-white view of a woman enshrined in brilliantly colored flora. Like the rest, it embodies the timeless cycles that comprise the essential and ineluctable nature of life on this earth.
The Art of Caring: A Look at Life Through Photography
Through Oct. 11
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org