When photography first emerged in the 19th century, art critics predicted a collision with painting. It turned out there was no need to squabble over cultural territory: most photographers document the world, while painters are out to interpret it. The resulting symbiotic relationship is the subject of "The Painting of Modern Life," an exhibition at London's Hayward Gallery until Dec. 30.
The show presents 100 works by 22 artists, including Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol, Malcolm Morley and Gerhard Richter. Subjects range from Nevada's bordellos to London's tabloid media, but the strongest works treat some of recent memory's most haunting events. Richter's deliberately blurred Woman with Umbrella depicts Jacqueline Kennedy grieving after her husband's assassination, while Warhol's Big Electric Chair is a silkscreen rendering of the Sing Sing hot seat where convicted spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed.
These works are gestures of respect for photography's power to create iconic images, but they are also declarations of confidence in the transformative capacity of painting. Photographs freeze the decisive moment; these paintings infuse it with distinctive meaning.