A World of Statues @Foxy Production

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 20 framed photographic works and 1 video displayed on the gallery’s white walls. The photographers/artists included are Peggy Ahwesh, Matthew Booth, Olga Chernysheva, Sara Cwynar, and Nona Faustine. The works are dated between 2005 and 2018, as follows:

  • 1 HD single-channel video, color, sound, 1 min. 30 sec., edition of 3 with 2 AP
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 5 pigment prints, each measuring 27 x 40 inches and available in an edition of 5

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Monuments—dismantled, detourned, and reimagined—have been much in the news in the last few years. On one hand, they include 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, there is the memorial, which opened this past year in Montgomery, Alabama, to the nearly 4500 African Americans lynched in the United States between 1977 and 1950.

But the debate surrounding whose interests monuments serve, and what injustices they obscure, reaches back decades and even centuries; 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 book 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, in which in which 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. A suite of three impressionistic pictures by the same photographer of One World Trade Center similarly considers the instrumentalization 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, artist Sarah Cwynar has long been interested how images—political, religious, or commercial—are used to define and persuade. For this show she has contributed a terrific older work: a set-up photograph of an architectonic tabletop sculpture built from found plastic items, including thermoses, lemon squeezers, plastic fruit, and pudding cups, and apparently inspired by the domed structure in a photograph behind it. To create the picture, the artist photographed the sculpture in sections, taped the resulting photographs together, and rephotographed the fractured 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 trickiness of received ideas; through their provisional structures and visually confusing images, Cwynar challenge seamlessness, whether visual or ideological. Likewise, for three pictures of vintage Avon after-shave bottles, each modeled after a bust of an American president, the artist removed the head of each of these mass market monuments to white male power. “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 suite of five black-and-white photos of Moscow’s Alley of Cosmonauts—which celebrates the Soviet space program—under renovation. In it, a muddy road lined with plastic-wrapped forms ends—like the punchline to a joke—in a massive, brutalist monument topped with a rocket. But while slightly ridiculous, the sculpture is an ominous reminder that even as memorials commemorate the past, they may also—like the contested Confederate monuments in our own country—be repurposed to create nostalgia for vanished power.

Filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh’s two-minute short is an imagist homage both 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 adopts an imagist approach to the fraught subject of memorials. In her recent series of large-scale color photos, “My Country,” views of such iconic American monuments as the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty are occluded by out-of-focus barriers in the foreground. 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/vide 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 the smaller prints, the large prints NFS/already sold
  • Nona Faustine: $6000 each  (unframed)

Matthew Booth, Nona Faustine, Olga Chernysheva, Peggy Ahwesh, Sara Cwynar, Foxy Production

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