There’s one image that neatly sums up the idea behind ''Utopia/Dystopia: Construction and Destruction in Photography and Collage,'' the newly opened exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It’s Patio View, by American artist Martha Rosler. The montage, from Rosler’s Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful series, utilizes found images from popular magazines from the late 1960s and early 1970s. It shows a beautiful patio, taken from House Beautiful. But beyond it, instead of a tidy lawn, she’s inserted a scene of a couple of dead bodies on a destroyed street in Vietnam, taken from a newsmagazine.
The show, part of FotoFest 2012, was curated by MFAH associate photography curator Yasufumi Nakamori and features 100 works from the 1860s to the present. They experiment with the ideas of utopia (somewhere you want to be) and dystopia (somewhere you don’t want to be), according to Nakamori. The exhibit covers some 150 years of photographic work, so it would be easy to assume that the changes in technology would be strongly reflected in the images. Not so, says Nakamori. “It’s the creativity that counts, not the technology. It’s the idea behind the image that matters most.”
For example, Japanese artist Esaki Reiji’s Collage of Babies, One Thousand and Seven Hundred Children That in Three Years Came to My Shop was created in 1893 and is one of the most important works in the exhibit. Reiji made it by cutting out the heads from photographs of babies, making a collage of them and then rephotographing it. Nakamori says the image discusses our desire to be photographed, remembered, on one level. At the same time, it anticipates the population boom seen in Asia soon after. And from a modern point of view, it comments on Japan’s rapidly decreasing population.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 10. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑639-7300 or visit www.mfah.org. Free to $10.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: March 11. Continues through June 10, 2012