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Stepping Out

Crashing 'Other People's Parties'

Social perspectives through a photographer's lens


See who is the life of the party at Hofstra University Museum of Art.

The museum’s current exhibition “Other People’s Parties,” is now on view at its David Filderman Gallery through March 13.

The exhibit of photographs calls attention to social occasions and their highs and lows. It ponders such questions as: What is it about other people’s parties that we find so intriguing? Is it idle curiosity or something more?

The works on display investigate the impulse to preserve party moments in photography, and the human desire to belong and live vicariously through others.

These photographs, explains Karen T. Albert, acting director and the museums’s chief curator, comprise almost a fifth of the museum’s permanent collection, which features more than 5,000 works, spanning more than 3,500 years.“ The museum relishes the opportunity to share this rich and unique resource with the community,” she says.

“We want to continue to share our valuable resource. One of our strengths is photography and as we looked through the collection, we saw that a lot of photos were of celebrations.”

Thus an exhibit emerged. It consists of traditional gelatin prints by artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Larry Fink, Danny Lyon, Mary Ellen Mark, and Andy Warhol, among others.

“While the photographs in this exhibition predate social media, and hand-held technology, they capture our innate human desire of seeing and being seen, and therefore feel totally contemporary. The exhibition really invites visitors to take a moment to stop and consider our obsession of following, liking, and tagging other people’s pictures,” says Kristen Rudy, collections manager and the exhibit’s curator.

“What we’re photographing now is similar, it’s just the way we’re doing is different,” adds Albert. “These photographers had a different perspective, they were more of a voyeur than a participant as we are now.”

Among the photographs on display are a number of images by Larry Fink, who did a series of photos of people interacting at parties in 1977. He captured it all: the New York City club scene to starry Hollywood parties to socialites. He was fascinated by interpersonal relationships.

“His black and white contrast is really intense in these dimly lit places,” Albert notes. “It’s fascinating to see the way people are looking across from other people, looking at what is going on.”

A different viewpoint is seen in the photography of the esteemed Danny Lyons, whose photos from his Bikers series of 1962-1963 are included. Known for immersing himself within the communities he photographed, this series captured the life and travels of the American motorcycle rider pre-Easy Rider.

“It’s not all about formal parties,” says Albert, “we wanted to show casual meet-ups also.”

“The 25 photographs of Other People’s Parties are a spirited witnessing of social gatherings of the 20th century, a chronicling of both performative and intimate moments in an age before social documentation became truly rampant,” says Susannah Ray, Hofstra adjunct associate professor of Fine Arts, Design, Art History, who presented remarks at last month’s opening reception.

“Every second a deluge of photographs post to our social media feeds: amongst the sunsets, babies, and puppies, we also find parties, celebrations, and special occasions, similar subjects to those in the photographs hung around the gallery. Here, in real time, can we stop scrolling and instead begin strolling, slowing down to appreciate the particularity of vision and perception that characterizes these selections from our Hofstra museum collection? The reward will be a fuller understanding of photography as social media and parties as social context.”

As always the museum offers additional programming to enhance the exhibit experience. Upcoming events include the museum’s latest Artful Adventures session, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Kids, ages 5-10 (with an adult companion) can adventure into the world of mystery and magic found in photography, guided by a museum educator. They’ll create a snapshot from an imaginary party. Registration is required.

For more information on the exhibits and related programming, call the museum at (516) 463-5672 or visit www.hofstra.edu/museum.