Carey Young, Palais de Justice @Paula Cooper

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, hung against white walls in a small side gallery and the adjacent hallway space. All of the photographic works are digital c-type prints, made in 2017. Each is sized roughly 43×60 inches. The show also includes 1 single-channel HD color video with quadrophonic sound, 17 minutes and 58 seconds in length, on view in a large darkened gallery space. All of the works are available in editions of 5+2AP. (Installation shots and video stills below.)

Comments/Context: London-based artist Carey Young has long been interested in the subject of the law; earlier works—often made in collaboration with lawyers—have addressed such subjects as the legal definition of outer space, copyright and intellectual property law, and corporate legalese. The fascinating centerpiece of her current show at Paula Cooper is a new video shot at the Palais de Justice in Brussels, the largest court in Belgium.

Built in the nineteenth century, this enormous edifice, still in use, endures as a symbol of state and judicial power. Young’s quasi-speculative video, Palais de Justice (2017), features real trials that the artist—unable to get official permission to film inside the building—shot there on the sly.

The film, whose only soundtrack is the murmur of voices and the echoes of footsteps on marble, opens with long shots of the courthouse’s hallways and staircases, which start off empty and gradually become busier as the building fills with people. The artist then turns her attention to a judges’ changing room with its ranked portraits, all of men; to pillared hallways; and to the double doors, soundproofed with buttoned leather and inset with circular windows, leading to the courtrooms. So far, the images have been of patriarchal power at its most exalted, but it is at this point that Palais de Justice shifts from a Martha Rosler-style documentation of public space into fantasy.

Noticing how many women worked there, Young decided to edit the video as if there were only female judges in the court, envisioning—and asking us to envision—a society in which women are in control of justice. In a series of long takes shot through the courtroom doors’ portholes, stern-faced, black-robed women judges leaf through files, listen to arguments, or simply stare into space. They confer with similarly dressed female lawyers, while in the halls outside, the lawyers’ male counterparts pace and peer—like the camera—into the courtroom from the hallway outside.

The film might have ended here, with the question of how a society with an all-female judiciary might be different from our own. But it takes a final surprising turn, as the camera, now fitted with a telephoto lens, zooms in on a succession of younger women lawyers, lingering on the nape of a neck or a sweep of blond hair. Here, Young appears to be asking whose eye the camera’s eye represents; are these close-up views a masculine reassertion of power, or a feminine wish to partake?

The photographs that accompany the video, while less absorbing, nevertheless subtly echo its themes. They present the courthouse as a depopulated, theatrical space in which materials, forms, and even color evoke the power of the law, even as they reinforce our own status as outsiders. Looking at them again after watching the film, however, these images of half-open doors and courtrooms hidden behind frosted glass, instead of shutting us out, seem to slyly invite us in.

Collector’s POV: The photographs in this show are priced at $16000 each. The video is priced at $40000. Young’s photographs have little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Carey Young, Paula Cooper Gallery

One comment

  1. Pete /

    Where I work it’s absolutely normal to see women both representing and as judiciary, so I didn’t pick up on the ‘fantasy’ aspect at all. The stats in the UK anyway are about 50/50 for solicitors, but only a third are counsel, still a significant way to go, especially at QC level and for partners in firms. The intake of women pupils is growing, I believe. So the real mystery is how come there are far more female barristers than baristas – what’s that all about?

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