On View

What We Look For When We Look At Art: Rachel Harrison’s Perth Amboy

Installation view, Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy, The Museum of Modern Art, March 19 – September 5, 2016.

In Fall 2000, Rachel Harrison set out to document a modern-day pilgrimage to Perth Amboy, NJ. Residents there claimed to have seen an image of the Virgin Mary in their second-story window and people were flocking to this town on the outskirts of New York City to behold Her presence. Harrison’s resulting project, Perth Amboy, is currently being re-staged by MoMA fifteen years after its original presentation at Greene Naftali Gallery.

From early on, Harrison’s work has presciently combined sculpture and photography to explore our relationship to images more concretely. Here, she pairs her own photographs from Perth Amboy with a series of found-object sculptures. With this installation, Harrison questions how we view art and, more specifically, what we look for when we view art. In retrospect, it represents her archetypal project.

Harrison’s understated photographs forego documentation of the apparition and focus instead on the moment when visitors touch the window in hopes of gleaning any lingering presence. One photograph eerily captures the faint image of a person’s face, just visible through the glare of reflected sky and the accumulation of handprints. In effect, the handprints form a new image, one that recalls the smudges that initially conjured the Virgin Mary. With an emphasis on contact, Harrison’s photographs transport the image of this holy apparition back into the physical realm.

Installation view, Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy, The Museum of Modern Art, March 19 – September 5, 2016.

The rest of the installation, which fills the entire gallery, is set up as a cardboard maze that limits our mobility and seems to entrap us within the space. The cardboard panels are unaltered except for the folded scores that allow them to stand on their own, somewhat precariously. Situated (and sometimes hidden) among them are seven sculptural arrangements, exhibited on customized bases that include a mirrored pedestal and a Stor-All box. The gallery is so crowded with cardboard that it is difficult to look at more than one of these tableaux at once, and impossible to view them collectively.

Several pairings focus on the act of looking, with one object contemplating another. In one, a ceramic figurine of a Chinese scholar meditates on one of Harrison’s characteristically lumpy cement sculptures. In contrast, a family of porcelain Dalmatians gazes up at a crumpled chipboard envelope as if it were an important monument. Others focus more directly on photography: a Becky doll (Barbie’s disabled friend and coincidentally "the school photographer") views an unspectacular image of a green wall and a miniature bust of a Native American in headdress admires a framed snapshot of a sunset (a remnant from Harrison’s earlier project, Sunset Series*).

Rachel Harrison, detail of Untitled from Perth Amboy, 2001, wood, GatorBoard, cardboard, Becky Friend of Barbie doll, thumbtacks, and chromogenic print, 96 x 38 x 41 inches.

Each pair is a reiteration of the others, a repetition of the gaze (and the projections that accompany it) that is central to the artist’s project. By relating her own pieces to common objects, Harrison may be poking fun at her own work and contemporary art in general, but more likely she’s taking aim at the loaded nature of the gaze, the awkwardness of the exchange between a viewer and an object.

Here, the observed objects signify nothingness, or at least an absence of clear meaning or function: an empty envelope, an abstract sculpture, a generic sunset photograph, and a green screen, which represents digital invisibility. Harrison’s readymade figurines are searching for something in these objects that they may not find, and this, perhaps, is what they share with the people documented in the photographs that line the gallery walls. Still, the effort is admirable.

Harrison may have been drawn to the initial spectacle in Perth Amboy as a skeptic, but she clearly respected the power of the apparition. Unlike the sculptures, there is no mocking tone in her photographs of the faithful. After all, it was the power of an image envisaged from a few smudges on a windowpane that drew crowds of people to an unassuming two-story house in the suburbs. It’s a similar power that transfixes the figures in Perth Amboy and keeps us wandering this cardboard maze.

Installation view, Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy, The Museum of Modern Art, March 19 – September 5, 2016. (All photos: Chris Murtha)

Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy
On view through September 5

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
www.moma.org


*Harrison’s Sunset Series (2000) featured photographs that employed various analog distortions to create distinct images of the same sunset snapshot.

On View: Sharon Core at Yancey Richardson

As she did with her still life photographs, which I included in Nature Morte, Sharon Core continues to blur the distinction between nature and artifice in her new exhibition, Understory. What initially appear to be details of a forest microcosm are actually documents of a meticulously researched and cultivated environment, created by the artist within a geodesic dome built on her Hudson Valley property. Like an environmental display at a botanical garden, Core’s “forest” is both real and fabricated—it is a living ecosystem that is controlled and isolated from external influences (though she did source insects and other natural materials from surrounding woodlands). Core used her own garden to grow plants and flowers for her earlier still life and floral arrangements, so it is no surprise that she went to such effort to create a living stage for these photographs.

Using photography to examine the still life genre, Core has previously found inspiration from artists as diverse as Raphaelle Peale and Wayne Thiebaud. Here, her chiaroscuro images loosely reference the work of Otto Marseus van Schrieck, a 17th Century Dutch painter whose depictions of thriving forest floors were rife with the type of symbolism and meditations on mortality usually found in a vanitas still life. Appropriately, the forest floor is teeming with death and decay but also rebirth. Due to their subject matter and art historical references, Core’s floral images occasionally flirted with being too beautiful, but this exhibition is very much about what lies beneath the beauty—the death and decay that enable life to thrive and keep the cycle moving.

On view through May 7

Yancey Richardson Gallery
525 W 22nd Street |  Chelsea
www.yanceyrichardson.com

Top: Untitled #4, 2015, Archival pigment print, 30 x 20 inches, Ed. of 7; Bottom: Installation view with Untitled #1 and Untitled #11, Sharon Core, Understory, Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

"On View" posts highlight current exhibitions featuring exhibited artists.

On View: Miranda Lichtenstein at Elizabeth Dee

For her fifth solo exhibition with Elizabeth Dee, Miranda Lichtenstein presents a photographic study of Josh Blackwell’s sculptures. Blackwell, who recycles disposable shopping bags into sculptures via ironing, stitching, cutting, and painting, functions as both muse and collaborator. The two worked together to create a sculpture that translates Blackwell’s work into a two-dimensional floor installation—a carpet of stitched and embroidered images—that is exhibited along with Lichtenstein’s vibrant, painterly photographs.

The flatness of the images and condensed layering bring to mind Lichtenstein’s “Screen Shadow” series, for which she used patterned Japanese papers to obscure and illuminate staged still lifes. Here, she uses Blackwell’s plastic bag sculptures, which she photographed in studio settings over the course of two years, as her raw material. Though the sculptures have their own distinct formal qualities, Lichtenstein uses various backdrops to create ambiguity between the sculpture and her photographic construction.

Lichtenstein, whose still life photographs I included in “Nature Morte,” frequently examines the photographic process using conventional genres and techniques. Here she is working within the tradition of photographers that have documented the work of their contemporaries. The title of the show, “more Me than mine,” combined with the repetition of the phrase “Thank You” on the shopping bags, suggest that Lichtenstein saw something in Blackwell’s work that was absent from her own. Their individual approaches come together in the collaborative floor piece, an arrangement of scanned and cut images of Blackwell’s sculptures that expands both of their practices.

On view through December 19

Elizabeth Dee
545 W 20th Street  |  Chelsea
www.elizabethdee.com

Top and bottom: Installation views, Miranda Lichtenstein, “more Me than mine,” Elizabeth Dee, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

"On View" posts highlight current exhibitions featuring exhibited artists.

 

On View: Francesca DiMattio at Salon 94

A solo exhibition of Francesca DiMattio's ornately deformed ceramic sculptures is on view at Salon 94 Bowery through May 7.  DiMattio was featured in my Spring 2013 exhibition, Vessels, and these works are a continuation on a larger scale of the ideas she was exploring at the time – mixing and matching ceramic styles and traditions to achieve a hybrid of forms that finds a tense balance between beauty and the grotesque.

Installation view: Francesca DiMattio, Domestic Sculpture, Salon 94 Bowery. (Photo: Chris Murtha)

The press release describes the floral accents in one sculpture as “viral,” which is apt.  Though the elements of each work are intricately and beautifully handcrafted, their application is often so excessive and their juxtapositions so jarring that the works can be unsettling and confrontational, especially considering their human scale.

Titled Domestic Sculpture, the works in the exhibition are hardly such.  Instead, DiMattio’s sculptures offer an intense challenge to the decorative and functional conventions of ceramics.
 

Francesca DiMattio @ Salon 94
243 Bowery (Lower East Side)
www.salon94.com

Francesca DiMattio, Iznik, 2015, Glaze and luster on porcelain and stoneware, 88 x 29 x 29 inches; Domestic Sculpture, Salon 94 Bowery. (Photo: Chris Murtha)

"On View" posts highlight current exhibitions featuring exhibited artists.

On View: Daniel Gordon at Pioneer Works

You can see Daniel Gordon's work in the current show at Pioneer Works, Under Construction – New Positions in American Photography, a collaboration with FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam). Included in the show is the title piece from Shadows and Pears, our exhibition at The Horticultural Society of New York.

The exhibition focuses on artists that are reassessing photography for our digital age, with a specific focus on those who use manipulations and interventions, whether digital or physical, to re-contextualize imagery.

In an article for Frieze on the recent development towards “constructed photography,” Aaron Schuman describes Gordon’s work as:

[...] a new vision of our contemporary visual landscape: one in which photographic representations, rather than objects themselves, are the subject of composition and contemplation; one where images have become symbiotic with, rather than symbolic of, the physical world itself.*

The exhibition, which also features works by Joshua Citarella, Jessica Eaton, Matthew Leifheit & Cynthia Talmadge, Matt Lipps, Matthew Porter, Sara Cwynar, Kate Steciw and Sara VanDerBeek, is on view through April 26.
 

Under Construction @ Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street, Brooklyn (Red Hook)
www.pioneerworks.org

 Daniel Gordon,  Shadows and Pears , 2012.

Daniel Gordon, Shadows and Pears, 2012.

*Schuman, Aaron. “Construction Sight.” Frieze, April 2015, p. 118.