This photo is of the wall label at the Art Institute of Chicago on Robert Doisneau's photograph The Oblique Gaze,Paris, Sixth Arondissement. The fragment of text comes from a March 1963 review in Artforum magazine. It's opinion and analysis more than description. It speaks in the voice of an individual.
In one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century, Un Regard Oblique, 1948, viewers have discerned a typically Gallic anecdote. Looking into an art gallery window, a middle-class wife is intrigued by a canvas we don't see, while her husband...ogles a painted female derriere on the wall. As a joke the scene is recommended only by its naughty ricochet, but it travels farther than that, into a puzzle. For the 1890s nude that the husband gazes at is herself peeking through a crack in the wall at an episode nicely left to our imagination... Doisneau has no trouble recruiting them all into his endless gallery of voyeurs, where he himself is active. More than that, all these players illustrate the infinite regress of the observant eye back into what the photographer has called the 'religion of looking.'
During a visit earlier this week, I noticed that labels on other pieces owned by the Art Institute are equally voicey and compelling. They're by writers, some of them taken from fiction, responding idiosyncratically to the works or their subjects. They do not pretend at the God voice.
If museum walls spoke in these multitudinous individual voices more often, rather than in the institution-speak that typifies museum labels—either under-informative or redundantly descriptive, and always deadly bland, as if the product of a lobotomizing committee-approval process—then people might read them, and feel less alone in front of works of art. Even the art might feel less alone at night when the lights are out and everyone but the voices has gone home.
The Oblique Gaze, the amusing and classic Doisneau photograph described above is reproduced here for your looking pleasure. (The Art Institute doesn't own the rights so couldn't provide me with the image itself; Doisneau's estate does.)