Deftly Curated Images from singular RFK Funeral Train at SFMoMA by Charles Desmarais
“The Train” launches from a noted series of documentary photographs made by Paul Fusco from the funeral train of Robert Kennedy, 50 years ago this June, as it passed along the corridor from New York to Washington, D.C. That keystone sub-exhibition is flanked by alternative interpretations of the same event.
In one direction in the galleries, a small but touching exhibition of amateur snapshots, collected by Dutch artist Rein Jelle Terpstra, presents the unvarnished reactions of bystanders. In the other, a sumptuous film by French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno re-creates the day as the kind of fiction that extends and enlivens fact.
Though none of the sub-exhibitions would be as good on their own as they are in tandem, Parreno’s film “June 8, 1968” (2009) is the strongest of the three legs. The artist rented a train and hired a troupe of actors to achieve it.
Beautifully recorded at high resolution (70mm), it is a precise re-enactment of the funeral train’s now-famous journey. Long shots of the various characters recall the Fusco originals, yet the rocking of the train, the wind in the figures’ hair or in the grasses around them, place them — situate us — somewhere different on the continuum between past and present, life and image.