Jackie Nickerson: Field Test @Jack Shainman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the front and back gallery spaces. All of the works are digital c-prints, made in 2019. Physical sizes are generally 60×48 inches (in editions of 1+1AP), with a few images at 16×12 or 20×16 inches (in editions of 2+1AP). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Our past year of pandemic mask wearing, isolation, and forced separation has left many of us struggling with a sense of physical and psychological suffocation. To stay safe and protect others, we’re wrapped up and covered like never before, in some cases, becoming anonymous protected versions of ourselves before stepping out into the world. While wearing a mask and staying six feet apart from each other are necessary solutions to stop the spread of the disease, their impact on human interaction and the development of personal identity will likely be more subtle and far reaching than we might expect.

While Jackie Nickerson’s recent photographs were made right before the pandemic actually arrived, they grapple with our recent feelings of being stifled and smothered with unlikely prescience. In studio setups of flat surrounding grey, female models are alternately wrapped up by a dizzying variety of everyday packing and industrial materials. For the most part, these models take this wrapping with mute resignation, allowing netting, plastic sheeting, and packing paper to cover their bodies and heads with varying degrees of enveloping awkwardness. The mood of the pictures is less cooperation than imposition, the wrappings seemingly endured with stoic resolve.

Nickerson isn’t by any count the first photographer to experiment with this kind of sculptural wrestling with everyday materials. Melanie Bonajo and Polly Penrose have explored similar artistic terrain (albeit with a more body-centric feminist vantage point), and Nickerson herself has used this interruption motif in some of her earlier works, particularly in her images of African farm workers obscured by tools, tubs, plastic sacks, and oversized leaves, from her 2014 gallery show (reviewed here).

In these new photographs, Nickerson has pared away any hint of context or setting, and focused our attention on the different materials that act like masks, barriers, coverings, and even straitjackets. She uses a picture frame as a yoke, plastic sheeting and paint to evoke the melting composition of Munch’s The Scream, bubble wrap and pink tape as a kind of too tall lampshade muzzle, and a series of crumpled paper headdresses that function like makeshift crowns. She even binds one model to an orange blow-up pool toy shark, like two peas in an uncomfortable pod.

Nickerson has a particularly refined eye for form, and many of the most memorable works from this show transform mundane materials into elegantly innovative flights of fancy. “Hybrid” turns the billowing flow of a black plastic trash bag in the wind into something resembling the Winged Victory of Samothrace, while “Cloud” transforms a tumbling drop of plastic and Styrofoam into a shifting puff of white. Other works turn fully wrapped bodies into curving forms, the tightness of the perforated fabric and dusty pink vinyl creating layers of pulled drapery. And it’s hard not to be taken aback by the strangely spiky protrusions of “Seed Tray”, the array of inverted plastic pods becoming an imposingly poky and Surreal facial guard.

In less adept hands, such efforts to make imagery out of whatever is at hand might feel like an art school assignment, but Nickerson repurposes these found materials with particular flair. Her constrained inventiveness, and the overall motif of being wrapped up, certainly feel well timed, tapping into our own dark moods and ongoing journeys of separation and isolation.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $15000 for the large prints and $6500 for the smaller prints. Nickerson’s work has only recently begun to enter the secondary markets, and too few lots have changed hands to discern much of a price history. As such, gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Monolith Editions (here). Softcover (7 x 9.5 inches), 48 pages, with 27 color photographs. Includes a short text by the artist. Design ... Read on.

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