JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 color images, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the main gallery space. The chromogenic prints range in size from 36×47 to 48×62, and are all made in editions of 5. The works are all titled using the names of women, and were all made in 2009. (Installation shots at right.) A companion exhibit of the same body of work is also on view at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles (here).
As we are photography collectors, we are constantly trying to put contemporary work in some kind of historical context, looking for connections to figures and influences from the past that will inform our understanding of what we’re seeing now. As a result, I found it nearly impossible to see Alex Prager’s
new body of work without being immediately drawn back to Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills from the late 1970s; the similarities and echoes are pretty striking.Prager’s
staged portraits of California women are full of saturated colors and an exaggerated
retro melodrama. Her models have been styled with dated wigs, bright red lipstick, and obvious fake eyelashes, covered in thick make-up and dressed in vintage polyester. They stare vacantly beyond the picture plane, resigned to the film noir
tragedy that is about to occur, or tightly wound but trying to stay calm, struggling to protect their vulnerabilities; the cinematic role playing runs the gamut from coolly passive to wearyingly indifferent.
Hypothetically placed side by side with Sherman’s work, Prager’s
images have a more amplified and ambiguous tension. Sherman’s stills were more conceptual and consciously neutral, with more distinct settings and narrative environments; in Prager’s
world, the staging is more spare and the situations are more intensely unclear – often all we’re given is a head against a monochrome sky. While both bodies of work address the roles of women, the construction of personal identities, and even the creation of the idealized woman by the media, Sherman’s fictions seem altogether more plausibly real, while Prager’s
have been extravagantly inflated to the point where nuances of gesture and facial expression are the only hooks we have to the unknown and mysterious story.
While scholars might argue whether Prager’s work is overtly derivative, the reality is that Sherman’s film stills are generally beloved and admired, and Prager’s pictures tap into many of the same themes, issues and emotions, but in a colorful, contemporary manner; it is no wonder there is a noticeable buzz in the air.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $3900 and $13700, with a variety of intermediate levels along the way ($4900, $5900, $7300, and $9500). Prager’s work entered the secondary markets for the first time in 2009, but there were so few lots on offer/sold that it is hard to draw much of a pricing pattern. While large color portraits don’t fit into our collecting genres, my favorite image in this show was Eva, who stands with her face raised up but her eyes closed, set against a backdrop of dark blinds.
* (one star) GOOD (rating system described here
- Artist site (here)
- Reviews: The Daily Beast (here), Wallpaper (here)
- Interview: Art in America (here)
Alex Prager, Week-End
Through February 20th
Yancey Richardson Gallery
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011