Crime detectives who employ psychics may do better by hiring artists. Crime Unseen, a group exhibition curated by Karen Irvine at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, on view through January 15, features the work of eight contemporary photographers (Richard Barnes, Corinne May Botz, Christopher Dawson, Deborah Luster, Christian Patterson, Taryn Simon, Angela Strassheim, and Krista Wortendyke), who create observant interpretations of real-world criminal activities. Murder is the go-to offense in most cases, providing dazzlingly obscene source material. But since all of the crimes have been documented post-mortem, the artists forgo guts and gore in favor of a chilly noir sensibility.
Crime Unseen adds to a growing genre of crime-themed art projects and exhibitions, including the Hammer Museum’s 1997 exhibition Scene of the Crime. The present exhibition, however, contains a range of artistic intentions, from morbid curiosity to moral imperative to empathetic identification. Most of the images are deadpan, at first glance, presenting locations haunted by crimes ranging from white-collar to terrorism. One is tempted to imagine the taint of evil seeping through the concrete long after the chalk outlines have disappeared, but there is only life as usual. The message of Krista Wortendyke’s documentary project, Killing Season, succeeds in this quietly powerful way. She revisits locations of homicide in Chicago and photographs the empty scenes, recalling Joel Sternfeld’s similar project from 1997, On this Site: Landscape in Memoriam, adding to the vernacular genre of photography that shows how depressingly banal violent death can be.
The exhibition’s high point is the selections from Christian Patterson’s series based on the infamous Starkweather and Fugate murders in the Midwest, in the late 1950s. Patterson’s reinterpretation of the crimes layers his own voice atop the well-known crime-spree narrative, which, like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, complicates an already difficult story by making it personal and oblique, decades after the fact.