Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sarah Moon @ Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Sarah Moon, le Langage des Cygnes, 2000

The Sarah Moon exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris received great reviews. However, I have to admit, I came away slightly disappointed by the exhibition. I didn't think that it explored the depth and complexity of Moon's photography, preferring to highlight the aesthetic beauty. From the point of view of display, I found that works were too tightly hung. Not only was it not possible to social distance inside the spaces, but the proximity of one image to the next made viewing a challenge. The narrative of the exhibition followed the poetic and ethereal strands of Moon's photography. Overall, there is a dark melancholy hovering over the photographs as an oeuvre. While, the darkness and bleakness of Moon's vision made for some unsettling viewing, the exhibition ignored this aspect of the work. 

Sarah Moon, La Mouette, 1998

In addition, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Moon's fashion photography is an eschewal of the eroticism and objectness of the model's body. Moon's photographs reduce the body to a form, sometimes no more than a mould for clothes. In the most extreme examples, the body or figure is a shadow. Moon achieves this through what appears to be a deft handling of light and shadow as well as an instinct for the visuals. The human forms are then placed next to birds in flight, at rest, in reflection. In such series, photographs that began as fashion images become about the shape of clothes, their proximity to nature, imitation of animals, birds and flowers. In this, they are haunting, opening out to the continuities between human and animal as well as between bodies in motion and memory. 

Sarah Moon, En Roue Libre, 2001

The exhibition makes multiple references to Moon's interest in time, But again, there seems to be much more going on that a bringing of the past into the present. The photographs show an opening out of time. The camera is able to confuse between past and present, creating a timelessness that, as such, insists that time is in constant flow. Moon's photographs wear the camera's ability to bring disparate times together on their surface, just at the fashion world manipulates of form into something that is both timeless and ephemeral. I didn't think this play with time, particularly as it related to the subject matter was explored by the exhibition.

Sarah Moon, For Yohji Yamamoto, 1996

Lastly, there was nothing about the technology used by Moon to create her unique images. Moon uses Polaroid negatives which are not developed immediately, therefore attracting scratches, spots, dirt and other markings that appear like distress to the surface of the image. Presumably, she also uses filters, but this is not mentioned. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the image is the appearance of Moon's brushing of the photographic print with varnish or a lacquer of some description, heightening the blur and sense of mystery. This also reminds of early glass plate photography and the search to define the new medium in its relationship to painting. Here, in Moon's photographs with the manipulation of the surface, it is as though she is literally painting on the image, bringing the two media together in the single frame. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Gideon Rubin, A Stranger's Hand @ Karsten Greve

Gideon Rubin, Six Girls in Uniform, 2019

I didn't know Gideon Rubin's work before seeing this exhibition at Galerie Karsten Greve yesterday. Face to face with the anonymized generic figures, often identified for their métier rather than their person, my first thought was: Luc Tuymans. Like the Belgian artist, Rubin's anonymous figures have the appearance of being hastily painted. A few thick brushstrokes later, they appear on the canvas as troubled and tension-filled figures speaking a greater truth than their own being.

Gideon Rubin, Untitled, 2020

The flyer accompanying the exhibition claims that their faces have been erased. However, as I see them, they have been painted over. To me there is a difference. On these figures, we see that there was once a face, but that a brushstroke now covers over the features. The stroke is always made in a skin tone slightly lighter or slightly darker than the one underneath, thus consciously announcing, "this face is being covered over." The eyes mouth and nose are not brushed away, but they are swept under the carpet, so to speak. As a result, there is a hint that the identity is still there, underneath the hastily added swathe of paint. It has not been removed.

Gideon Rubin, Nurse, 2020

Without any knowledge of Rubin's process, his turn to photographs and cinematic images as inspiration, I was struck by the heterosexuality of the world he creates. The paintings are populated by white heterosexual figures: couples, families, and in one image which is disturbing for its hackneyed obviousness, a man in a suit stands behind a desk looking down at a naked woman slouched in a chair. The painting is titled The Office  2020. The Six Girls in Uniform , 2019 and Seven Girls in Uniform, 2019, images in which there is no sight of men is also as heterosexual as they come. The image shows the women with their heads bowed, standing like school children or employees, lined up to be spoken to, punished. It is an image pervaded by the generic presence of men scolding women. The flyer accompanying the exhibition talks about how the particularities of the identities are removed. While it is true that individuality is difficult to discern, identity is clear: these are white working women under the sway of a patriarchal society. 

Gideon Rubin, The Office, 2020

Unlike Luc Tuymans, although Rubin begins with the photograph, there's no way to identify the source. In fact, it wasn't until I read the catalogue that I learned that some of the works began as photographs of Nazi soldiers. With the insignia that gave them their power "removed" from the image, their power is supposedly neutralized. However, I suspect that the insignia might be covered over rather than removed. And, Nazis decorated or not, the paintings represent men with power. The works are not about the photograph in the way that they are for Tuymans. Rubin's paintings don't speak to the reproduction of images, the processes of the image world, its dangers and violations in the way that Tuymans does. Or at least, if they do, the critique of images is different. Power is everywhere apparent, but it is in the pose of the men - relaxed, chest open, legs casually crossed, confident. While women repeatedly have their hands at the their sides, and posed to suggest entrapment. Even Nurse, 2020 has the feeling of a deer in a headlight. Her head is turned to confront the viewer, enveloped in red, surprised that she is being watched. If the women are not being scolded by men, they are uncomfortable, nervous, self-conscious. 

Gideon Rubin, Fourth Avenue, 2019

If Tuymans creates tension and conflict between identity and the representation of that identity, Rubin is painting power. To reiterate, this is a white, heterosexual power shining a light on the awkwardness of social relations and its expression between men and women. The sadism of men and the reticence of women makes Gideon's paintings unsettling. I was surprised at how much emotion the works stirred up in me, particularly, my anger towards the artist. I kept wanting to ask, "does he know what he is doing?" As if he didn't know!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Antony Gormley, In Habit @ Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac


Antony Gormley, Installation @ Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, June 2020

Antony Gormley's sculptures are about so much more than the material and objects themselves. His recent exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac, In Habit, fills the downstairs space of the gallery with steel. As the title suggests, steel is both habitually running through the gallery spaces and creating a habitation. The title is both a noun and a verb as well as gesturing towards an adjective. Notions of living, home, the built environment, the world we occupy become merged with feelings of entrapment and being stuck, lost, in the sway of something outside of ourselves, something that we cannot control because we are slave to a habit. Or the behavior might be a benign kind of habitual, regular occurrence. Like steel, the body and the object one and the same thing.

In the principle downstairs space, Run II (2019) is like a living, breathing organism, running across doorways, from room to room. As it moves up stairs and around the gallery, I was reminded of a science fiction creature, creeping through a foreign world to which it doesn't belong. And yet, steel is the scaffolding of our world. 

Antony Gormley, Float, 2019

Gormley's use of steel makes the material confounding. I might be reminded of a creature slithering across the floor and around the walls, but the works are made of steel, of an intransigent metal. The works are also about line, the graphic line of the pencil as it moves across a page, the line of a steel infrastructure. The rusted line becomes like a thread, turning at right angles, impossibly. In Gormley's hands, steel reminds of drawings, the movement of our bodies in space, as well as those of an alien organism. Other works such as Float represent the body at rest, in a pose. But then when we look at them from certain angles, we see that the head is raised, uncomfortably held up at the neck, struggling to hold the pose. 

Antony Gormley, Head, 2019

The tension between the organic and the industrial material is always the contradiction at the heart of Gormley's sculptures. In the upstairs galleries, Nest, Float and Head (all 2019) are rusted. These works have no movement, no flexibility, in them at all, and indeed, the figures remind us of bodies holding yoga poses. And yet, they are inflexible, unlike the yogi. Of course, they are also contradictory: they are lines without beginning and end, entwined channels of rust. Run has a beginning and end, even if it is moving into spaces that it doesn't belong. Rust is about politics and capitalism, rust is about the world that we live in. 

Antony Gormley, Run 2, 2019

Like all of Gormley's work, these sculptures play on confusion, not only between the organic and the industrial. They are involved in a process of erasing the distinguishing line between inside and outside. When we stand in relation to Run II, are we inside the matrix or out? And do we see the innards of bodies made of steel, or we looking at figures protected by the skin of rust?