Time Out New York / Apr 16–22, 2009

Alfredo Jaar

KEVIN. KEVIN CARTER: The late photojournalist’s name is repeated metronomically throughout Alfredo Jaar's video installation, The Sound of Silence (2006), the artist seemingly determined to etch it in the viewer's memory. A silent eight-minute projection housed in a room-size metallic enclosure, the work recounts, in sequential lines of text that suggest filmic subtitles, the story of Carter's brief life. Having won a Pulitzer for his controversial shot of a child menaced by a vulture in famine-stricken Sudan (the sole image in Jaar's work), the troubled South African committed suicide in 1994 at age 33. The Sound of Silence sticks to the facts, but demonstrates in memorably simple fashion the power of photography to both document and influence human life in extremis.

Less impactful is Searching for Africa in LIFE, a collection of more than 2,000 postage-stamp-size images of the iconic magazine's front covers spanning six decades, arrayed across five large prints. Jaar's point here is that, among all the varieties of human endeavor represented by the classic periodical, African culture rarely gets a look. But while the bias may be regrettable, it's hardly news. And when stacked up against Life's striking photography and the undeniable fun of singling out personal favorites, Jaar's righteous outrage feels like sour grapes. A small print hung on the opposite wall spells out why in stark white letters against a flat black ground. It's a perennially good question (even with the question mark missing), but no one should ask it exclusively of other people.

Image: Alfredo Jaar, The Sound of Silence, 2006