Freese

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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Images Of A Depression

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Jim Johnson over at (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography posted a photograph (above) featured in an on-line photo set at The Guardian, with the thought that such an image ironically represents America’s, and perhaps the world’s current economic climate.  It’s a striking photographic image, and when it’s regarded in context of the current worldwide recession and credit crisis it certainly could illustrate a paradoxical nature of our financial state amid a globalized world that could not turn off the high powered mechanized production spigot.  It also induces the familair pangs of seasickness if you stare at it for any length of time.

But it lead me to think back on Dorothea Lang’s famous Depression Era photographs, particularly her most widely known photo of a mother and seven children.  That photograph captured a prevailing national despair at that time.  The photo of rows and rows of automobiles above is absent of people, absent human emotion, absent any earthly organic element.  That’s not a criticism of the photo or Jim’s suggestion that it could represent today’s financial crisis.  The photo above is cool, sleek, repetitive, even visually garish in representing a failure of institutional systems of trade, finance and politics.  But where’s the human suffering?

The picture begs the question, how can a depression exist with so much stuff filling our existence?  What is an economic depression in our post-modern, globalized world?  What does it look like in art?  Does a depression today mean that a multitude of people have to go without Blackberry service and cable TV?  Perhaps a downgrade to dial-up internet service?  There are no bread lines now, despite over two million people losing their jobs last year, and I don’t know how many million people losing or abandoning their homes.  There currently is no glut in food supply that existed in the 1930’s during the dust bowl.  The good folks at Cargill and Monsanto have seen to that by genetically modifying and genetically engineering foods, and by doing their best to destroy local farmer businesses.

Where was the art world when our current credit crisis was taking place?  Down in Miami partying and buying overpriced artworks that will never appreciate, of course.  Art has often been found at the opposite polar spectrum from social realities in times of war or other hardships, especially in the twentieth century.  During World War Two and the Korean War painters were flying off into their ivory towers and making “pure” abstract expressionist paintings.  During the Viet Nam War, painters were burrowing themselves into minimalist dugouts, far away from the social realities of the time.  Where are the artists, particularly painters and photographers, who are representing our collective reality (if there is such a thing)?  Shepard Fairey has depicted the fairy tale of Obama.  Now who will illustrate the day after?  Or has art forever given up being an element of social influence?

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Written by Wes Freese

February 7, 2009 at 2:19 am

Patti Oleon Paintings

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My favorite, favorite, favorite painter right now is Patti Oleon.  Her rich, visually succulent paintings are a sight to behold, not only for their stunning imagery and high contrast of lights and darks, but also the veneer of their painted surface.  This is what painting is at it’s best.  The physicality of their painted surface should be a delight for anyone, but most of all for painters who love the process of creating paintings.

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Oleon’s nostalgic paintings touch on memory, time and the illusion of captured imagery.  Their seductiveness is unparalleled in contemporary painting. In a statement Oleon writes that her imagery is of “liminal environment(s), suggesting that even the most lucid presentation of facts is distorted, incomplete, provisional.”  Her work utilizes photographs of “hotel lobbies, period rooms in museums, spaces contrived to look habitable but resolutely lacking human presence” which suggest places within memory, that evaporate with time.   These stylized places transcend geographic location, that can’t be found on Google Earth or some GPS device, and seem more like a stage perhaps for some Stanley Kubrick purgatory or publicly ceremonial function.

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Oleon’s work denies much of the history of Modern Art painting in the twentieth century, as if it never existed.  These paintings make Clement Greenburg and the whole New York School over the past sixty or so years seem childish, despite their claims to high art and mysticism.  These are the works that should be documenting the history of American civilization in the early twenty-first century, not the works being exhibited in the Whitney Biennials of the last couple of years.  Ours is a dark, highly stylized age, it’s citizens perceiving some American identity that no longer exists, while they look back trying to reclaim that which only resides in memory and can never return.  This is painting at it’s very best, if you ask me.  Indeed, Patti Oleon is one of the best painters in America right now.

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Written by Wes Freese

February 3, 2009 at 1:34 pm

David Maisel’s Library of Dust

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David Maisel offers up another jarring suite of photographs entitled “Library of Dust” on his website, and at Lens Culture.  His photographs of oxidized and rusted canisters containing the cremated remains of patients from a state run psychiatric hospital in Oregon, who died there and whose family never collected upon death, are a richly colorful, yet stark collection of images representing a bureaucratic cataloging nightmare.  A creepy and tidy response to death of people who most likely suffered from mental illness brought about by the complexity of modern life.  I think of On Kawara’s work, only real and without artistic pretense.

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Written by Wes Freese

January 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Cooper Photography

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Via C-Monster today, it appears as if the art world has a new photographer bursting onto the scene.  Known only as Cooper (what is it with these one-named artists?) his photographs are a voyeuristic take on contemporary suburbia.  As if he were mapping out some stalking route, Cooper’s super-cool, anti-art images reflect a bucolic calmness that is oddly striking, not to mention a not-too-shabby sense of composition.  Cooper doesn’t yet have gallery representation, but was recently featured in the Seattle PI.  The future looks bright for this promising young artist.

Did I mention Cooper is a cat? Visit Cooper’s Flickr page here.

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Written by Wes Freese

December 13, 2008 at 2:35 am

Cindy Sherman Photographs

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New works by Cindy Sherman are on exhibit at Metro Pictures in New York.  They’re also on-line here.  I love Sherman’s photographs… sure who doesn’t?   Sherman has done interesting photographic work over the past thirty years.  The question is never, “is the exhibit of new work good”, but rather “how good is it”, with each passing exhibit.  Except, that is, for Jerry Saltz, who “was never really a big fan”.  Cindy Sherman is a bit of an anomaly – an artist with staying power who produces consistently good work, and continues to do so to this day.

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Sherman’s earlier work has toyed with and skewered feminine mystique.  In her seminal “Untitled Film Stills” and other lively and exaggerated conceptual female portraits, she cast herself in most pictures, adopting various roles in the photographs that both exploit and comment on the male gaze, as well as create a running narrative about female identity.  This subject has seemingly been an endless well of inspiration and exploration for her and her work.  The latest works are not a departure from that basic formula, however, these works seem to be representative of Sherman looking forward in time, perhaps trying on various roles and identities for research into her own “golden age” down the road.

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Sherman has often employed an element of satire in her works, sometimes subtle, and sometimes in the extreme to the point of the images being grotesque.  These latest works seem to represent a somewhat satirical yet tragic take on the middle ages of upper class, white matriarchs (perhaps a sector of women who collect her artwork, which seems rather brazen).  The first thing that one notices is the giant size of the photos themselves.  They’re over-sized to the point that they can’t be ignored, which seems to be the point.  The make up Sherman uses to assume each specific identity and role for the photographs has been purposefully over done, the clothing worn in each photo helps tell a story, and the poses range from icy cold to slightly demented.  There’s women in ball gowns alone in their own living rooms.  Women who are trying very hard to look good for the camera.  Not that the representation of each of these female personae seem untrue.  Quite the opposite, they’re on point in American society.  Sherman might find other less comical archetypes of middle age women in societies like South America or Asia, but Sherman is focusing on the women in her social and/or professional neighborhood.  For Sherman and some viewers, these are convincingly realistic representations of women.  I suspect for others, these images will appear to be caricatures.

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Time seems more at issue in these works than in her previous work.  Sherman seems to be focusing on a period of transition and uncertainty in the lives of Western womanhood.  The time of sexual attraction and procreation is seemingly over for these women.  These women’s children have moved out of the house, or perhaps they never had children.  These society women are approaching a time when their previously engaged and active lives begin to slow down.  The slight satirical appearances of the women hint at a vulnerability and a despair in the not too distant future, despite the many attempts at proud stances by these women.  Rather than these pictures being a reflection of how men view women, these are strictly Sherman’s eyes we are seeing through this time.

I read somewhere that these works were more tender and empathetic, but I can’t see that.  These photos seem to be an almost savage analysis on the part of Sherman, to stave off the possibility of herself becoming one of these archetypal identities.  In each of the photographs Sherman digitally superimposes her subjects in various stately backgrounds and surrounding, which serve as the symbolic representation of a life’s work.  The women hautily project an image of themselves against that backdrop, yet a tragic subtext fills the space in the photograph.  Despite Sherman’s attempt at a humorous distance between her subjects and herself, she’s pinpointed a very serious time of passage in women’s lives, including her own.

Review of exhibit and video at Art:21.

Review by Martha Schwendener at Village Voice.

Review of exhibit by Art Forum.

Review of current work by Steve Kaplan.

Interesting interview with Cindy Sherman at Papermag.com.

Written by Wes Freese

December 12, 2008 at 2:07 am

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