A World of Statues @Foxy Production

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 20 framed photographic works and 1 video dated between 2005 and 2018. The following artists/photographers have been included in the exhibit:

  • Peggy Ahwesh: 1 HD single-channel video, color, sound, 1 min. 30 sec., available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP.
  • Matthew Booth: 3 mounted inkjet prints in powder-coated aluminum frames, each measuring 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches (or reverse) including frame, and available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP. 1 photographic work consisting of three mounted pigment prints in powder-coated aluminum frames, each measuring 11 13/16 x 8 15/16 x 1 1/4 inches including frame, and available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP. 1 mounted pigment print in a powder-coated aluminum frame, measuring 30 x 24 x 1 1/2 inches including frame, and available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP.
  • Olga Chernysheva: 5 gelatin silver fiber prints, each measuring 11 6/8 x 8 1/8 inches and available in an edition of 5 with 2 AP.
  • Sara Cwynar: 1 chromogenic print mounted on Plexiglas, measuring 30 x 24 inches and available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP. 1 chromogenic print on metallic paper mounted to Dibond, measuring 30 x 24 inches and available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP. 3 archival pigment prints mounted to Plexiglas, each measuring 31 x 23 inches and available in an edition of 3 with 2 AP.
  • Nona Faustine: 5 pigment prints, each measuring 27 x 40 inches and available in an edition of 5.

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context:Monuments—dismantled, detourned, or reimagined—have been much in the news in the last few years. They include on the one hand, the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, the planned removal of which led to violent protests in 2017 by white supremacists and the death of a black counter-protester at the hands of one of them. On the other hand, there is the memorial to the nearly 4500 African Americans lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950 that opened this past year in Montgomery, Alabama.

But the debate surrounding whose interests monuments serve and what injustices they obscure is hardly new. The title of this timely show, which takes such questions as its starting point, is based on a quote from Martiniquais anti-colonial writer Frantz Fanon’s 1961 tract The Wretched of the Earth: “A world compartmentalized, Manichaean and petrified, a world of statues: the statue of the general who led the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. A world cocksure of itself, crushing with its stoniness the backbones of those scarred by the whip.”

The exhibition opens with Matthew Booth’s rather gloomy close-up photographs of New York’s 9/11 memorial, where water pours endlessly from pools the size of the Twin Towers’ footprints into square pits 30 feet deep. Shot in uncertain light and from angles that obscure their scale, the pools, with their moisture-stained walls appear anything but monumental. Elsewhere, the artist’s impressionistic pictures of One World Trade Center similarly consider the instrumentalizing of architecture to concretize historical narratives, while, at the same time, destabilizing what curator Thomas Lax has called the monument’s “tropes of memorialization, sentiment, and spectacle.”

Like Booth, Sarah Cwynar has long been interested in how images, whether political, religious, or commercial, are used to define and persuade. The show includes Cwynar’s terrific set-up photograph Islamic Dome (Plastic Cups), 2014, of an architectonic tabletop sculpture built from found plastic items, including thermoses, lemon squeezers, and cups, and apparently inspired by the domed structure in a photograph behind it. To create the picture, the artist shot the sculpture in sections, taped the resulting images together, and rephotographed the pieced-together whole.

A more recent piece by Cwynar features the same objects in a different arrangement, this one accompanied by a color postcard of the US Capitol building. Both works conflate the trickery of photography, and its illusions of depth and scale, with the the trickiness of received ideas; with their improvised subjects and visually confusing spaces, they challenge the seamless narratives offered by religious and civic monuments. So do Cwynar’s pictures of vintage Avon after-shave bottles, each modeled on a bust of an American president. Commemorating the 1976 US Bicentennial, the bottles are tiny homages to white male power—or would be, except Cwynar has removed the presidents’ heads. “It’s an old idea,” she has said about this series. “You don’t notice something until it is broken, until it forces you to see it.”

Equally irreverent is Olga Chernysheva’s set of five black-and-white photos of Moscow’s Alley of Cosmonauts—which commortes the Soviet space program—under renovation. Here, a muddy road lined with plastic-wrapped forms ends, like the punchline to a joke, in a swooping, modernist edifice topped with what appears to be a real rocket. While slightly ridiculous, the sculpture is nevertheless an ominous reminder that some memorials—like our own contested Confederate monuments—may also be repurposed to create nostalgia for vanished power.

Filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh’s two-minute short is an ode to the Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle, who published under the name H.D. Though she spent much of her life in Europe, Doolittle was buried in her hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where Ahwesh’s film was shot. Interspersed between sequences showing a hand brushing dead leaves from Doolittle’s headstone and trains rumbling past decaying buildings is an intertitle, taken from the poet’s own writings, that reads in part, “One who died following intricate song’s lost measure”—a line that might memorialize a dying industrial town as much as a dead poet.

Like the other artists here, Nona Faustine disrupts the visual and ideological space of the monument. In her recent series of large-scale color photos, “My Country,” out-of-focus barriers in the foregrounds of the pictures occlude views of such iconic American landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. In a country where there is still vast racial inequality, her series asks who has access to the freedoms these structures promise. By making them hard to see, she forces us to look at them anew.

Collector’s POV: The prints/video in this show are priced as follows, by photographer:

  • Peggy Ahwesh: $7500 for the single channel video
  • Matthew Booth: $2500 each for the smaller mounted inkjet prints; $5000 for the three-panel work consisting of mounted pigment prints; $5500 for the larger mounted pigment print
  • Olga Chernysheva: $2600 each (framed)
  • Sara Cwynar: $6000 each (framed) for Avon President Lincoln Deep Woods After Shave (2015); Avon President Washington Deep Woods After Shave (2015); and Avon President Roosevelt Tai Winds After Shave (2015). Islamic Dome (Plastic Cups), 2014 is NFS; White House (Color Cups), 2018, is sold out.
  • Nona Faustine: $6000 each  (unframed)

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Read more about: Matthew Booth, Nona Faustine, Olga Chernysheva, Peggy Ahwesh, Sara Cwynar, Foxy Production

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

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