The largest show at the new ICP is “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.” It was first seen at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, and is curated by the journalist Vikki Tobak, who previously put together a book and an Instagram account of the same name. Amid nearly 40 years’ worth of photographs of rappers and singers, the niftiest materials are the many contact sheets, including Michael Lavine’s outtakes for the cover of OutKast’s album “Stankonia,” and Eric Johnson’s shots of the rapper Eve strutting through New York in a floor-length robe.
Yet there’s a touch of Madame Tussauds in the approach of “Contact High,” which sets aside visual analysis for an undemanding showcase of your favorite celebrities. The principal wall texts do not name a single photographer, instead offering dubious platitudes like “Hip-hop portraiture is about pausing to see the subjects for who they truly are.” A whole wall is given to fresh inkjet prints of 1990s stars — Tupac and Jay, Missy and Mary. It will be easy to walk out of this show having ignored the actual achievements of photographers like Janette Beckman, Barron Claiborne and Al Pereira, whose talents are subordinated to Public Enemy, the Notorious B.I.G. and Queen Latifah.