One of the career inspirations for fine-art photographer JoAnn Verburg was the 1972 exhibition of work by the late Diane Arbus, organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Now Verburg has her own retrospective at MoMA: Present Tense: Photographs by JoAnn Verburg, which just opened and runs through November 5. While Verburg’s images may not match Arbus’s flair for heightened visual drama, they do share Arbus’s skewed sensibility — a focus on strange scenes from a willfully mysterious, almost fey, point of view.
With big prints (up to 4×6 feet) combined in diptychs, triptychs, and larger groupings, the MoMA show is striking in both its scale and its subtle juxtapositions, often “allowing viewers more than one entry point into the scene,” in the words of the wall text by curator Susan Kismaric.
But these pictures’ enigmatic beauty may leave some viewers wondering what the artist is up to. Visitors on a recent afternoon at MoMA ranged from head-scratching tourists to appreciative theorists pontificating on the “dynamic movement and depth” found in Verburg’s series of partially blurred photos of tree branches.