In vitro @Bodega

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 9 works by 5 artist/photographers displayed on the the white walls on the single-room gallery space.

The works are as follows:

  • Eugène Atget: 2 framed albumen prints, 1902, each 8.5×7 inches, unique
  • Sara Deraedt: 1 framed Lambda print, 2016, 3.5×4 inches, unique
  • Silvia Kolbowski: 1 color video, 2000, 14:37 running time, in an edition of 3 (projected on wall)
  • Mary Overlie: 1 black -and-white video, 1977, 1:38:47 running time, in an edition of 10 (shown on monitor)
  • Jindřich Štyrský: 4 framed gelatin silver prints, 1934, each 3.5×3.5 inches, unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: This tiny show with a long reach was conceived by independent curator Josephine Graf, who also organized “Contingencies: Arte Povera and After,” now on view at Luxumboug & Dayan gallery until December 16. Like “Contingencies,” “In vitro” combines contemporary art with art from the past, with an eye to cultural developments over time.

In the case of “In vitro,” the subject is the store window, from the changes it brought to French society at the turn of the 20th century to its fading importance in the digital age. Along the way, the exhibition touches on, among other things, the gentrification of the Lower East Side, display, gender, consumerism, and the still and moving body.

The exhibition begins with two photographs of the same subject—a tobacconist’s gated shopfront—taken by Eugène Atget (1857–1927) in 1902. At the end of the 19th century, Atget set out to record the vanishing historical buildings, streets, and architectural details of a rapidly modernizing Paris. The pairing of the two images—one showing the whole storefront; one, closer up, focusing on the model of an anchor over the tobacconist’s doorway—is telling, for it implies the body in motion.

In her classic study of spectatorship “Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern” Anne Friedberg contrasts the illusion of mobility offered by 17th- and 18th-century optical devices such as panoramas and dioramas to the “mobilized” gaze of the flaneur, or the wanderer in the city—a figure eulogized in the mid-1800s by poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire. Although Baudelaire hated cameras, Atget, somewhat younger, was, truly, one of a new generation of mobile observer/spectators.

Atget’s pictures of old-fashioned storefronts coincided with a seismic change in Paris society. Baudelaire’s flaneur was assumed to be male—female wanderers being unknown except as literal “streetwalkers.” As Friedberg observes, “The female flaneur, the flaneuse, was not possible until she was free to roam the city on her own. And this was equated with the privilege of shopping on her own….It wasn’t until the closing decades of the [19th] century…[that] the department store became a safe haven for unchaperoned women.

Although for most of his life, Atget considered himself strictly a documentarian, his photographs were beloved by the Surrealists for their haunted quality. The show moves on from Atget to three of Czech Surrealist Jindřich Štyrský’s images of shop windows from the mid-1930s, unlikely images that seem to have emerged from dreams: a realistic (or possibly even real) swan fluttering in an ornate frame; a mannequin—sporting the artist’s reflected head instead of its own—and a group of dancing automatons.

By the 20th century, artists like Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg were being enlisted by department stores to design outré windows. And by the 1960s and ’70s, avant-gardist installation, performance and video artists were hijacking windows for their own ends, as can be seen in documentation of choreographer Mary Overlie’s 1977 dance performance for the window of Holly Solomon Gallery. (The three dancers in Overlie’s piece nicely echo the three automatons in Štyrský’s nearby photograph.)

Window displays are still very much with us—as evidenced by Sara Deraedt’s terrific 2016 photograph of a vacuum cleaner seen through glass—and the exhibition ends without exploring virtual presentation strategies. Instead, it leaves us with Silvia Kolbowski’s riveting and prescient video, shot in 2000, in which she asks Orchard Street store owners whether they think the ultra-chic Lower East Side clothing shop Seven x 7 will change the neighborhood. Most seem optimistic that it will bring new life to the area. But hanging ominously next to Kolbowski’s piece is a fourth Štyrský photograph, of an empty shop window papered over with posters. It might almost have been taken yesterday on one of the city’s many empty commercial blocks, where what has been called high-rent blight follows late-stage gentrification.

Collector’s POV: The works in this group show are priced as follows:

  • Sara Deraedt: $3500
  • Mary Overlie: $1000
  • Eugène Atget: POR
  • Jindřich Štyrský: $25000 or $30000
  • Silvia Kolbowski: $25000

Atget’s, and to a much lesser extent Štyrský’s, photographs can regularly be found in the secondary markets for photography, but the works of the other three artists (two of which are video) have little or no presence in these auctions.

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Read more about: Eugène Atget, Jindřich Štyrský, Mary Overlie, Sara Deraedt, Silvia Kolbowski, Bodega

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