“Things I want—not to do mother again. Things she wants—to do mother again . . .” These words are scrawled underneath a black-and-white photograph of a mostly nude woman seated spread-eagled in elegant surroundings with her face redacted by a black bar, part of Leigh Ledare’s multiplex series “An Invitation,” 2012. The photograph is backed by an enlarged reproduction of the front page of the day’s New York Times, which, coupled with the woman’s blacked-out face and suggestive stance, charges the work with a preternatural mixture of standardized and subjective temporalities, public and private boundaries, anonymous and familial modes of representation—all trademarks of Ledare’s practice. The “mother” to whom the artist refers in scribbling script is his own; his earlier body of work “Pretend You’re Actually Alive,” 2000–2008, depicts her in a variety of erotic scenarios. In contrast, the woman in “An Invitation” was a stranger who solicited the artist to take these photos for her husband (a contract on display stipulates that the couple and Ledare each receive one set). There is no more mother here, but in Ledare’s debut show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the artist’s fraught relations with female subjects are visible everywhere.
The second series on view, “Double Bind,” 2010/2012, consists of two sets of photographs of the same woman—Meghan Ledare-Fedderly—taken by Ledare (Ledare-Fedderly is the artist’s ex-wife) and Adam Fedderly (Ledare-Fedderly’s current husband) in the same remote location several months apart. In a brief, text Ledare describes the series as a “comparative structure” that then overlays with advertisements and erotica collected by the artist. Three vitrines in the center of the gallery show Ledare’s and Fedderly’s photos, and the collected print ephemera. Among the highly idiosyncratic archive one document is particularly elucidating: a Life review of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age, 1970, the feminist chieftain’s tome on society’s discordant relationship to the elderly and aging. While the female muse obviously continues to be Ledare’s sustenance, the passage of time as it is refracted through both the camera lens and webs of human relations appear to be the force driving his work.
If Laurie Simmons’s early works from the late 1970s function as a microcosm of repressed societal woes, many depicting miniature figurines of apprehensively posed housewives, she has today a poignant commonality in Japanese cosplay. A subculture of “costume play” known as Kigurumi, the hobby brings together men and women who prefer to socialize while dressed as their favorite Anime characters. They are depicted here in thirteen photographs as physical apparitions of Simmons’s previous dollhouse muses.
Simmons here equates “Dollers” with our own personal experiences with social media—in which the participant voluntarily forfeits aspects of reality in favor of a more attractive and fascinating persona. This relationship is best illustrated in three photographs titled Selfies, 2014, presented in the gallery’s entrance space, each of which images a Doller in an eerily familiar pose—chin at a slight tilt and an extended length of an arm trailing the camera’s descending perspectives. In a fourth photograph on the wall, Orange Hair/Snow/Close Up, 2014, a pair of enormous green eyes is mesmerizing and uncanny—synthetic of course, in archetypal Simmons design.
Within a second room, besieged by fetish latex, we at last see actual skin. In How We See/Look I/Daria, 2014, a well-known fashion model poses for a portrait with eyes closed and faux pupils painted upon her eyelids. Her makeup performs inverse to the Doller’s plastic facade and is evocative of unrealistic expectations of beauty, especially in the realm of commercial fashion. Elsewhere in the gallery, Simmons arrives full circle with Brunette/Red Dress/Standing Corner, 2014: After nearly four decades of mining dollhouses for motif, this iteration of a doll appears no less a proxy than its depiction—adrift in a gray between identity and persona, seemingly more comfortable as a surrogate than an actual human being.
In “Pastiche Cicero,” artist Timothy Hull nods to overlooked and off-the-cuff art of the ancient world, sourcing graffiti found at the Athenian Agora and in Pompeii as imagery for his cheeky, archeologically themed paintings and wall installations at Fitzroy Gallery. As its title suggests, the show presents stylized reproductions of classical phenomena: The oil painting Copy of a Copy of a Copy/Blue, 2013, depicts a two-handled urn that Hull has reduced to a graphic stamp, its pictorial simplicity tempered by an elaborate texture of obsessively wrought brush marks. The drawing For Amonis, Who Died at 29, in 610, 2014, transcribes an ancient epitaph in its original alphabet, but in blue gel-pen ink. Meanwhile, on the pace between drawings and paintings, tiny shelves support cheap faux-Athenian vases (the kind found in Greek diners), which hold sprigs of olive branches—perhaps peace offerings to the gods of good taste.
In a tucked-away backroom, a mixed-media installation Reel Around the Fountain, 2014, (named after the Smiths’ song) stages a hybrid bathroom: A modern porcelain urinal is the centerpiece, while Greek glyphs and homoerotic graffiti, writ in dripping paint, cover the surrounding walls. A scented candle burning atop the Duchampian toilet casts shadows and gives the impression that the stall is intended as a site of devotion rather than desecration. Here, as throughout the show, Hull treats a mixed bag of cultural symbols with both humor and reverence—an alchemical recipe that grounds the modern artist’s mark in a long lineage of scrawls and satires.
There is nothing coy about the title of Petra Collins’s debut solo show, “Discharge.” For evidence, see the sculptural array of stiffened, blood-stained underwear on two pedestals, a gesture that implicitly extends into Collins’s photography displaying an unabashedly feminine vision for both its subjects and the rendering of their existence as essentially visual and tactile. Her images focus on the teenage gaze, which could refer to either her subjects’ vantage point or her own. Rather than through a nostalgic look back to adolescence—note the artist is twenty-one years old—the works derive their strength from directly capturing experiences of the private and social bodies of young girls. Girls who may lawfully be adults, but as inMommy, 2013, which depicts an incoming call from said figure, are still bound by childish connections. Also, the photos show slight pixilation as inkjet prints, making for a pointedly un-precious contrast to the diaristic intimacy of the images.
Additionally, neon works arranged throughout the gallery electrify excerpts from text messages between Collins’s friends and from Rihanna lyrics. The neons project sass, but the photos dare to risk sincerity, as in Sofy Tear, 2013, in which a girl clasps her textbook over her chest with a tear running down her cheek. Her expression implies a certain melancholy satisfaction though, perhaps because this moment is about allowing an honest feeling, comfortingly embraced in another girl’s camera lens.
At times borrowing the playful erotics of Richard Kern’s work or the essayistic style of Lauren Greenfield, Collins’s aesthetic is an overall quieter counterpoint. Her tone is soft twilight clinging to an outline of a girl shyly undressing, as in Michelle Window, 2009, or coolly distanced curiosity as in Selfie #1, 2014, where two girls take an iPhone photo together in a garishly lit institutional bathroom. A representation of mediated presentation, it typifies technology’s feedback loop through which both the drama and the banality of girls’ lives are played out.
For her first New York solo exhibition in nearly a decade, Sarah Lucas delivers a sangfroid, Freudian slip of a show, anticipating and upending the lurid expectations of her audience with a hard-edged humor much darker than her one-liner premise. The exhibition’s title, “Nud Nob,” refers to the artist’s 2009–2010 series of “Nuds,” anthropomorphic sculptures fashioned from panty hose. She has now cast similar forms in bronze, as if to trade fetish for finish and the weight of art-historical reference points. All sloppy sausage limbs and Brancusi-bird erections, the figures still carry on their contorted coitus, but the show’s central thrust comes from a semiotic showdown between two sets of sculptures, all 2013. The first is a pair of gleaming bronze squashes, spanning an impressive seventeen feet and fifteen feet, respectively, and bearing names—Kevin and Florian—more reminiscent of maybe-bedmates than of pantry staples. The more modestly sized (eleven feet and nine feet) Eros and Priapus are cast-concrete phalluses, impeccably rendered and mounted on compacted car parts, like hijacked John Chamberlains. In lieu of testicles—the exhibition has balls only in the idiomatic sense—Priapus boasts a handle similar to a dagger, or perhaps a turkey baster (a comparison encouraged by the backdrop of Chicken Knickers, 2014, a photograph of a slender pelvis, its crotch blocked by plucked poultry).
For all its brash, whip-’em-out swagger, “Nud Nob,” actually champions innuendo, with the power of vegetal suggestion more compelling than anatomic articulation. Lucas may call upon the almighty Phallus, but she does so with an irony that skirts the lines between veneration and castration. In the back room, the second of the concrete sculptures, Eros, the grand inquisitive, is attended by the muses of Eating a Banana, 2014, six floor-to-ceiling photographs of the artist fellating the half-peeled fruit. Potential titillation is held in check by Lucas’s gaze, dead-eyed and defiant, as if to say: “What, haven’t I given you what you wanted?”
Joanne Greenbaum is an artist who lives in her studio. It is easy in her latest exhibition, the inaugural show at Rachel Uffner’s new gallery, to sense the olfactory appeal of her process—and, in fact, her practice offers another idea of the studio as a factory. Instead of Warhol’s cool Fordian mass production, the one-person Greenbaum factory creates singular, unique works of organized chaos. For example, the repetitive scrawled doodle marks evident in some works suggest a hand neurotically filling a coloring book at pace, while the broad-brushed, casual painterly gestures aspire to bring a discrete tentacle shape into focus. Alongside these opposing attitudes are drips, scumbled brushstrokes, melting puddles of color, and discontinued architectonic shapes, all of which playfully jigsaw together a bigger picture that hints at degrading logic and systems—as if Greenbaum were changing thoughts midstream. Adding to this disorderly impetus is the range of media she works with, including paint, ink, Flashe, marker, oil stick, and pencil, which are all often combined in the same space.
The tension created by this seemingly automatic mark-making sits at the juncture of drawing and painting—that is, between the structuring logic of line versus the emotive suggestion of color, which in another era would have been construed as the struggle between the intellect and the romantic. This edginess could also be construed as embodying the persistent heat of city living—the city being an analogue to the factory in modern life. The eight large, untitled ninety-by-eighty-inch paintings, hung tightly in this tall, squarish space, create both the intensity and the diffusing and disorienting energy associated with urban life. Ultimately, though, Greenbaum’s ebullient outpouring can best be characterized by a single word: gleeful.
Jordan Wolfson is a filmmaker in the traditional sense, drawing more from the history of cinema than from art. The specific strategy of his celluloid, digital, and animated beauties involves layering, where one film exists within or on top of another. Success is derived from a calculated dissonance. See his 2006 short of a tuxedoed figure signing Charlie Chaplin’s parody of Hitler: “I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor . . . that’s not my business.” Or the footage of milk inserted into marching Diet Coke bottles in Con Leche, 2009, or his recent effort Raspberry Poser, 2012, where CGI renditions of the HIV virus bounce throughout generic interiors of department stores and New York’s SoHo, the treatment set to the sound track of Beyoncé. Cut. Enter the artist dressed as a crust punk with vitiligo sporting Iggy Pop paraphernalia. Can this work seriously engage issues of a techno-scientific postindustrial society via a technique entangled within the trappings of the very technology it purportedly critiques?
The focal point of this exhibition is (Female figure), 2014, an animatronic real doll, dressed as a stripper and skewered by her pole, performing in front of a mirror. What a selfie she makes, a screen onto which your desire can be projected, or another image to add to your Instagram. This is a pivotal point within the artist’s practice; his work has moved from the silver screen into three dimensions. The method remains the same, the figure dances to an irregular sound track: sometimes Paul Simon and sometimes Lady Gaga, among others. Cut. Pause. Wolfson’s voice whispers, “My mother’s dead, my father’s dead, I’m gay,” as if to offer access to his “inner” self. While the litany could be interpreted as a transgressive pimping of post–hetero-normativity, it returns us to a modernist myth: authenticity verified by the artist’s touch, cold material infused with aura. The loop performed by Wolfson’s simulation—much like the installations of Philippe Parreno, which perform the structure of cinema—turns on and off, seemingly responsive to viewer engagement, only to have been preprogrammed. The repetitive choreography anticipates a second question, and it’s hard not to entangle Wolfson himself in this one: Is the performance ever over?
Attempting to trace Brian O’Doherty’s artistic concerns through his seven decade career is akin to falling down a rabbit hole. This would undoubtedly please the artist, who delights in the type of misdirection that aims at inspiring deeper thought. His output includes mazelike grids (Vowel Grid, 1970) among other labyrinths-inspired imagery like his rope drawings (notably Rope Drawing #120: Here and Now, 2014) in which warrens of colored segments are teased by ropes in three dimensions to create masterful parallaxes.
These works, on view as part of a joint exhibition presented by P! and Simone Subal, demonstrate the continuing currency of O’Doherty’s thinking. AOU, The Broad Vowels, 2005, comes from the period he worked under the pseudonym Patrick Ireland, which he assumed between 1972 and 2008 in protest over the political situation in Ireland. Here, O’Doherty employs trompe l’oeil through color and line to illustrate how the eye can confuse, mislead, and obfuscate. Also depicted are painted shapes of the titular vowels, which come from Ogham, an ancient Celtic language written as dashes and lines and never spoken aloud, that emphasize his interest in delineating underlying visual patterns to describe systems of existence, thought, and communication.
For O’Doherty, beyond trick lies reason. Just as the artist’s “Inside the White Cube” essays—originally published in Artforum between 1976 and 1986—indicates how a gallery space is anything but neutral, these paired exhibitions enable a reading of O’Doherty that discusses ways of seeing beyond surfaces. A Geographical Notation on Equivalence and Multivalence of Meaning (Arse / Ass), 1965, describes the potential for glorious misunderstanding when attempting to communicate about sex in Ireland versus the United States—the different meanings of the words “tramp” and “bum” being a case in point. O’Doherty’s famous portrait of Marcel Duchamp as an electrocardiogram, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, Lead 1, Slow Heartbeat, 1966, is shown here, too. As with Ogham, the heartbeat is unspokenultimately, however, what could be more fundamental to a person’s existence.
The most recent presentation of the late Michel Majerus’s work takes over all three of Matthew Marks’s New York spaces. The smallest gallery presents his 1999 “Tron” series, in which monochrome wall paintings have been overlaid with identical silk screens from the titular movie’s poster. Majerus understood the power of repetition of commercial images, but in a far less sardonic way than his Pop forbears. He would have reveled in memes, blogs, and social media: that is, the non-ironic appreciation for vociferously sharing and putting one’s mark on what everyone else is looking at.
Majerus produced work with nearly electronic speed, creating over 1,500 paintings and silk screens by the time of his death in 2002 at age thirty-five. A quickly identifiable color palette of snack-food orange, cereal yellow, Barbie pink, and video-game green unites the show. Majerus sources from Basquiat and Warhol with equal fervor as from Gameboy and Nintendo. The tone of such sampling remains ambiguous, giving the works an added heft decades later. In two untitled 1996 works, Majerus silk-screened images of Toy Story characters and Super Mario, respectively, onto monochrome-painted aluminum. By giving these technologically produced characters an effective spotlight, he highlights how rapidly they would become obsolete images. The quick, ironic joke also reads as superior prescience for how image and humor would come to be so entwined in the digital age.
On view at Marks’s midsize location is work made between 1994 and 2002, all of which toys with the desperate language of cheap entertainment: In one gallery we find PORNOGRAPHY NEEDS YOU in billboard type, MOTIVATION in corporate sanserif, and NEW COMER in a faux-galactic font. But the come-ons aren’t always so concrete: The largest of Marks’s galleries presents large-scale work in which the results unravel. The phrase NEW COMER reappears in an untitled 2000 work, competing with motivational speak, graffiti, and painted blurs. And sometimes thoughts collapse into half-formed texts, floating between actualization and paint, as in Ding On, 2000, in which unformed text searches for a surface. Here, even as paint should bring figurative definition to disposable pleasures, it only makes their flimsiness more pronounced.
A time-based media crackerjack, the late Christoph Schlingensief (1960–2010) seamlessly roved between the disciplines of experimental film, theater, television, radio, opera, and performance art. In the charged atmosphere of 1968, at the age of eight, Schlingensief had already directed his first work, a twenty-minute short in which a farmer waves a handcrafted flag to German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s renowned Wedding March—the film’s eerie political undertone and focus on a specifically German context would come to define his entire oeuvre. A champion of a post-Brechtian attitude, Schlingensief often tried to assault his audience out of complacency, tackling gritty subject matter such as neo-Nazism and the unification of Germany with anarchic verve. A household name in his native country, he is still little known in the United States.
This is thus a timely overview of an inimitable career. Featuring documentation of approximately two dozen performance works, the exhibition comes head to head with the complexities of presenting such a prolific, ephemeral practice. The subversive qualities of this enfant terrible’s provocative output are best communicated in the interactive displays. Highlights include Animatograph, 2005–2006, a pulsing, dark, rotating tree house meets postapocalyptic bunker in which viewers confront disturbing films and props as they climb up and around the fun-house installation. See too Talk 2000, 1997, the peculiar talk show Schlingensief founded in the basement of the Volksbühne (People’s Theater), which is shown here on two cubic television monitors on a revolving platform arranged like a living room with sofas, side tables, and lamps.
The exhibition also shines in its simultaneous presentation of The Germany Trilogy, 1989–92, and 120 Days of Bottrop—The Last New German Film, 1997, in a darkened chamber on the museum’s second floor. The cacophonous clatter—an alarming mixture of rumbling chainsaws, shrieks of terror, and gasps of pleasure—that bounces between the jutting, angled walls is true to Schlingensief's unruly spirit.
Heidi Bucher began using liquid latex in the late 1970s upon her return to Zurich after a spell living in Southern California. She most famously used the medium to produce what she called Häutungs or “skinnings.” Applying it atop fabric that had been carefully pasted onto the surfaces of buildings—most often but not exclusively the interiors of structures she had inhabited—Bucher would let the latex dry and then peel it off, producing a supple rubber sheath literally embedded with traces of the past, a physical transcription of the memory and history of the space. Somewhat presciently, Bucher’s process suggests that the past is not adequately accessible through narrative alone: The passing of time is also material—a near-geological process of molecular sedimentation—and this requires novel tools. That Bucher, who died in 1993, is not more widely known is a strong indication that the project of feminist art history is far from over. Her pathbreaking work presaged such iconic nineties work as Rachel Whiteread’s House, 1993, and Do-Ho Suh’s The Perfect Home, 2002, and she justly deserves the attention she is currently getting.
Delicately suspended from threads, the “skinnings” that make up Herrenzimmer (Study), 1977–79, are arranged so as to recreate her father’s study, allowing one to walk into what feels like a ghost of that room. Parquet Floor of Study in Winterthur–Wüflingen, 1979, a wall piece, alludes to a dialogue with Minimalism. The crisscross pattern of the first surface is clearly visible across the forty-two identically sized sections of the piece, which, when not on display, can be neatly stacked and put away in the accompanying monogramed antique chest. Having developed a sculptural method that seems to seize time, Bucher, in later works, used latex to arrest another flow—that of water. In Jetzt Fliesst das Wasser Aus der Vase (Now the Water Flows Out of the Vase), 1986, water pours out of a levitating purple vase, collecting in a long pearly pool across the floor. Ultimately, the real strength of these works may be entirely unintended. The cured latex, yellow and stiff with age, heightens their abjectness—the end of the pool of water looks like a dried-up condom. Time has triumphed after all, hardening Bucher’s skins into hides.
“Witness,” as its title proclaims, is a bold admixture of radical voices attesting to the spirit and conscience of the 1960s. The decade has often been revisited as a period when artistic earnestness and social efficacy prevailed in spite of an increasingly commercialized market. Rarely has the result been as intriguing as in this exhibit, which brings Pop art, Abstract Expressionism, neo-Dada, and the Black Arts Movement into conversation.
Outliers of canonical movements command center stage, from Robert Indiana’s brash The Confederacy: Alabama, 1965, to Norman Lewis’s Double Cross, 1971. Sam Gilliam’s Red April, 1970, is a shimmering curtain of pastels punctuated by splashes of blues, yellows, and a prodigious use of red. Part of a series about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that followed, Gilliam’s large painting lures the viewer into its fluid veil of color only to press discomfort with the violent application of vermillion. Philip Guston’s return to figuration in works such as City Limits, 1969, whose comically charged Klansmen have been dually interpreted as symbols of protest and apolitical reflections of the artist’s inner self, makes sense in this context. The slick oil residue of a body lingers on David Hammons’s The Door (Admissions Office), 1969 a symbolic threshold of Jim Crowism.
The stars of this show are rarely seen works that include Melvin Edwards’s Chaino, 1964, Pauline Boty’s Countdown to Violence, 1964, Jack Whitten’s Birmingham, 1964, Jae Jarrell’s Urban Wall Suit, 1969, and Joe Overstreet’s Justice, Faith, Hope and Peace, 1969. Reminiscent of scholarly reassessments of ’60s art in the ’90s, the exhibition, curated by Teresa Carbone and Kellie Jones, manages to incorporate works that are often marginalized because they do not fit neatly into established art-historical movements. Here, however, elegant visual connections, such as those between Elizabeth Catlett’s 1969 lithograph Negro es Bello II, and Indiana’s Black Yield Brother 3, 1963, allow familiar formal idioms—seriality and the use of popular signage among others —to reemerge in light of a shared engagement with the central issues of their time.
JE SUIS MÉDUSE. I am Medusa. These words hover, graffiti-like, in a speech bubble on the choppy blood-red ground seething through the chaotic central painting of Martin Kippenberger’s causa mortis series “The Raft of the Medusa,” 1996. It is here—in this layered, macabre scene—that Kippenberger depicts his own figure modeled after each dead, dying, or deranged crew member of the wrecked ship Medusa immortalized in Théodore Géricault’s 1819 epic painting. Inspired by the French masterpiece, Kippenberger feverishly produced a series of forty-nine paintings, drawings, lithographs, and even a rug printed with the image of the raft itself, all during the year before his death. Displayed together for the first time in the US, they show the kaleidoscopic nature of the artist’s tragicomic brilliance.
A robust grouping, the paintings are as psychologically multivalent as the series itself. Compartmentalized by geometric blocks of color, these self-portraits externalize what is perhaps an effort at order amid entropy. Yet Kippenberger’s unbridled treatment of paint—thinly layered, violent scratches that carve out a gaping mouth or armpit or, in other places, thick, toothpaste-like scrolls that engorge figuration—implies a heated reckoning with fate; and comic moments, such as cartoon-like ocean waves, jest at death itself. On a final lithograph, Kippenberger scrawled THE END as though sardonically turning the page of a fable.
Taken by his wife, the accompanying photographs of the late artist are haunting, bringing to light his embodying process. In each of them, Kippenberger is pictured assuming various positions, imitating Géricault’s deserted men and their uniquely splayed bodies. Though the word myth often buoys Kippenberger’s name, here it is unveiled: The Medusa’s delirious reincarnation plays perfect artifice for Kippenberger’s looming mortality that was plagued by corporeal extremes. Je suis Méduse, or better, I am Kippenberger—excess, ruin, The End.
Here today, gone tomorrow. If last year’s overnight whitewashing of graffiti haven 5Pointz in Queens revealed anything, its that the fleeting form of graffiti tags is as susceptible as ever to the whims of property owners and real estate speculation. All the more prescient, then, was artist Martin Wong’s vision to amass his extensive collection of graffiti works on canvas, wood, Masonite, doors, and any other conceivable writing surface. Aspiring to be the “Albert Barnes of graffiti,” Wong donated his collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994—“City as Canvas” is the first selected display of these materials.
One of the earliest items exhibited is Wicked Gary’s Tag Collection from 1970–72. Compiled during the nascent years of graffiti’s ubiquity, the gridded display features the distinct signatures of almost one hundred pioneering writers. Among the more legible signatures indexed are Super Strut and Flint, For Those Who Dare; the posturing and bravado of both are a staple of the spirit of graffiti tagging. By 1981, the Metropolitan Transit Authority heightened police measures and installed razor-wire fences and guard dogs in train yards as initial efforts to “clean up” the city. Lady Pink, notable as one of the few female graffiti writers, foreshadowed the eventual effects of these developments in her 1982 self-portrait, The Death of Graffiti. The artist stands nude atop a mountain of spray cans pointing mournfully to a whited train as a graffiti-marked train passes behind it, the stark contrast emphasizing what has been covered in the first; a stifling feeling of inevitable gentrification pervades the scene.
Indeed, in 1989, New York City mayor Ed Koch declared the subway “graffiti-free” as a result of the cleanup efforts. That same year, Wong founded the Museum of American Graffiti in the East Village to bring archival attention to what he deemed his “aerosol hieroglyphics.” The project proved short-lived, closing within a year due to financial pressures. Yet the museum—the first of its kind in the United States—provides a lens into Wong’s sustained preservation efforts. An original vitrine from the museum’s inaugural exhibition is on display here. Covered in chain-link fences and signature scrawls, the case provides an appropriately urban, idiosyncratic display for a similarly alternative collection from a nearly bygone era.
Many of the artists in this expansive exhibition place an emphasis on the physicality—or lack thereof—of photography rather than on its capacity to represent the outside world. As a whole, “What Is a Photograph?” might be taken as a diagnostic inquiry, with the title reading as a rhetorical question. Curated by Carol Squiers, the exhibition includes twenty-one artists, ranging from Gerhard Richter and James Welling to Liz Deschenes and Eileen Quinlan, and has tasked itself with surveying the medium since the 1970s.
The work of both Matthew Brandt and Letha Wilson exhume a long-standing tradition of American landscape photography with fresh invigoration. In Brandt’s large-scale Grays Lake, ID 7, 2013, Technicolor abstractions stem from an actual processing bath in the depicted lake waters, while Wilson’s monolith Grand Tetons Concrete Column, 2012, employs industrial concrete to sculpturally engage her iconic views of the American West. Draped through the gallery’s foyer is Mariah Robertson’s 154, 2010. This single photograph measures one hundred feet in length and has been meticulously hand-processed by the artist in a highly toxic photochemical environment. The remarkable result validates its production, as every inch of this dangling photograph reveals a labyrinth of glowing hues and pictorial intricacies.
Parallel to romanticizing the darkroom are the several artists who wholeheartedly embrace the more conventional, digitalized avenues associated with the medium. Travess Smalley’s Capture Physical Presence #15, 2011, exploits the imaging systems of a flatbed scanner to manipulate his collages into what he describes as mind-numbing “feedback loops.” Kate Steciw’s approach in Apply, 2012, takes advantage of a Google-based research method, purchased stock imagery, and sculptural tack-ons that recall the slick advertisements of commercial photography. Elsewhere in the gallery, a wall text accompanying Jon Rafman’s eerie and unadorned busts reads, “The age demanded an image / Of its accelerated grimace, Something for the modern stage / Not, at any rate, an attic grace.”