Barkley L. Hendricks, Myself When I Am Real @Jack Shainman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 65 black-and-white and color photographs, variously framed and matted/unmatted, and hung against white walls in a series of connected gallery spaces.

The following works are included in the show:

  • 43 archival pigment prints, c1980, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, c1995, 1997, 2004, n.d. (posthumous prints), sized 16×24 inches (or the reverse), in editions of 5+2AP
  • 3 hand-tinted gelatin silver prints dry mounted on card, c1971, 1976, sized roughly 4×7, 5×8, 5×10 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print dry mounted to card, 1974, sized roughly 5×8 inches, unique
  • 12 gelatin silver prints, c1975, c1980, c1985 (posthumous prints), sized 16×24 inches (or the reverse), in editions of 5+2AP
  • 2 gelatin silver prints, c1970, sized roughly 6×8, 8×10 inches, unique
  • 4 archival inkjet prints, 1979, 1991 (posthumous prints), sized 26×39 inches, in editions of 5+2AP

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Barkley Hendricks passed away in 2017, and in the years since, his estate has been busy cataloguing his lesser known efforts in photography. A thin 2021 photobook (reviewed here) provided a first taste of the celebrated painter’s photographic vision, and this show builds on that initial baseline, expanding further into various photographic projects and subject matter areas via a mix of vintage and posthumous prints. What is becoming clearer as we see more of Hendricks’s photographs is that he wasn’t simply making visual notes for his paintings, but was also actively processing the world around him through the lens of his ever-present camera.

This show features two sets of images Hendricks made of TV screens. One group was composed to include not only the mounted TV near the corner of the ceiling at the Dutch Tavern in New London, Connecticut, but a stuffed deer’s head and a rack of potato chips nearby (giving the images a working-class American context to play against), while another group of pictures is framed much more tightly and squarely on the screens themselves. Made over a period of roughly a decade, generally from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the images represent a screen-grab pop culture and media survey, from politicians (like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon) and actors (like Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and Pee-wee Herman) to TV shows (The Brady Bunch and All in the Family) and an assortment of cultural icons and celebrities (Bugs Bunny, Big Bird, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and Julia Child, to name just a few).

Interwoven into this parade of largely white faces and stars is a more subtle study of race on television, mixing famous Black athletes (Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, and an ear-biting Mike Tyson) and historical moments (the O.J. Simpson trial, the beating tape of Rodney King, and the Anita Hill testimony) with the personalities of Malcom X, Muhammad Ali, Louis Armstrong, and Sammy Davis Jr., among others. Punctuated by a handful of images of high heeled women’s shoes, Hendricks’s TV screens reference other TV screen images by various master photographers and amateurs alike, and presage a future of celebrity ubiquity and media overload, where stereotypes and prejudices about race and Black America are deeply embedded in the endless visual flow.

The seeing (and isolating) of faces on screens might have been an outgrowth of Hendricks’s interest in playing with the photographic possibilities offered by mirrors. Two black-and-white self portraits from the mid 1970s find him with a camera held to his eye while shooting into a mirror, leveraging the voyeuristic energy of simultaneously seeing and being seen. This nesting of vision, and the related twists of spatial dynamics, are also featured in an image of a truck in a car side mirror, a mirror and TV combo in a shop window, a self-portrait in a sex shop security mirror near a table full of dildos, a seductive pair of reflected female legs on a bed, and a parking mirror street portrait linking his subject, himself, and a passing pedestrian. Each picture feels like a deliberate experiment, where Hendricks is testing how vision can be bent back on itself to create compositional complexity.

This is particularly true in a series of images Hendricks made in a red bedroom outfitted with two mirrors. Surrounded by crowded bookshelves, rumpled bedsheets, and other reflected items behind them, Hendricks and a nude female companion pose in the mirrors, watching, seeing, ignoring, and confronting, all within the confines of this tight space. The pictures knowingly allude to the cluttered artistic landscape of Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio, while also exploring intermingled facets of personal space, intimacy, and interior identity.

Most of the rest of the images on view are rooted in a loosely sensual interest in photographic form, as seen in female bodies, shoes, cars, and other visual discoveries from the streets. Hendricks variously pairs women together with mannequins, a skeleton, and a bronze torso, having fun with echoes of pose and position. He also pays attention to women in high heeled shoes, looking down at sidewalks and allowing his colors to wander into seething fogs and afterimages, and zeroing in on a nyloned leg with unexpectedly sinuous shadows. Still other pictures take in the lines of parked cars, savoring the low slung fins of a pink Cadillac and noticing the simmering friction of a cutout Abraham Lincoln head in the back window of one car and a Confederate flag license plate on another.

This show certainly provides more pieces to the tantalizing Barkley Hendricks photography puzzle, but it doesn’t feel like we have yet converged on a definitive interpretation of his photographic efforts and their relationship(s) to his work in other mediums. That will likely require an integrated step-by-step chronology, where we can methodically consider what he was doing with his paintings and photographs at concurrent moments, and tease out where the ideas may have overlapped, connected, or supported each other. For now, we seem to still be in search and discovery mode, unearthing photographic gems from storage boxes and starting to slot them into hypothetical frameworks. Given Hendricks’s growing stature and influence in contemporary painting, it’s a sidebar process worth following.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $15000 and $25000, with most of the posthumous prints at $20000. Hendricks’s photography has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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