JTF (just the facts): A total of 35 color works, framed in dark brown wood and unmatted, and hung in the entry area, the main gallery space (separated by a dividing wall) and the upper viewing area in the back of the gallery. All of the works are silver halide prints, made between 2007 and 2011. Physical sizes range from to 15×17 to 35×70 (or reverse), with many intermediate sizes; editions are either 5+3AP, 7+3AP, or 9+3AP, with the smallest prints in the largest editions. The show also includes a video of Hatry at work, with interviews with various artists and writers discussing the project. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Charta (here) and is available from the gallery for $35. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: At first glance, Heide Hatry’s floral photographs look like standard, botanical garden images – exotic blossoms and rare specimens singled out for up close attention, with a backdrop of leafy greenery or jungle undergrowth for context. But after a few would be orchids and possible roses, it starts to become clear that something else is going on here. These lovely flowers are surprisingly rich and fleshy, almost too thick and juicy to believe. And then the moment of horror comes – these aren’t real flowers, they are dissected animal parts sculpted to look like flowers. Easy going attraction is turned into shocked revulsion in an instant.
Part of the reason Hatry’s inversion is so successful is that her constructions are so believably perfect. Her “flowers” bloom in a bold spectrum of colors, from luscious pink and red to delicate white and yellow, their petals spun into intricate geometries of patterns and folds. Some are soft and velvety, others spiky and hairy, but they all seem like something plausibly natural, designed to attract pollinators or enable reproduction through the dissemination of seeds. That she has created these fictions out of animal waste, offal, and discarded sex organs sets up her artful betrayal. The image checklist is a stomach turning list of component parts: duck tongues, fish eyes, pig ears, deer eyelids, starfish arms, chicken combs, crab claws, lobster gills, sheep intestines, bull stomach, deer esophagus, cow vagina, sheep penis, with a little coagulated blood thrown in for decoration. Reading such a catalog creates in almost instant reflex reaction of disgust, which is just exactly what she wants to have happen.
Hatry is by no means the first artist/photographer to explore the artificiality of flowers. Joan Fontcuberta has made brilliantly impossible hybrid constructions of nonexistent plants in the New Objectivity style of Karl Blossfeldt, while Vik Muniz has taken carefully posed images of hand made silk flowers. But Hatry has taken this idea of upended floral reality several steps further with these works. Her “flowers” lead off in a multitude of conceptual directions. There is the “flower as sex organ” constructed with meaty sex organs idea, where a kind of carnal eroticism is mixed with taboos and phobias about bodies. There is a more primal two sided coin of confused beauty and ugliness, where something seductive becomes something repulsive in the blink of an eye. And there is the underlying theme of exploitation of the natural world and the thorny issues of large scale production of meat and flowers for human consumption that these pictures open up.
In many ways, it’s hard to imagine that flower images could be full of so much tension and contradiction. Hatry has cleverly deconstructed the genre and rebuilt it with more suggestive and sensational parts, bringing dark questions to a normally liltingly uncontroversial subject.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced based on size, starting at $1800 and continuing up through $2000, $3500, $6000, and $8000, eventually reaching $15000 for the largest work on view. Hatry’s photographs have very little secondary market history, so at this point, gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.