JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2013 or 2014. Physical sizes range from roughly 41×34 to 60×48 (or reverse), and all of the images are available in editions of 9. A monograph of Letinsky’s work entitled Ill Form & Void Full was recently published by Radius Books (here) and is available from the gallery for $55. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: If you look back at the progression of Laura Letinsky’s recent gallery shows (2010 here, then 2012 here, then this one), what you’ll discover is a deliberate march toward conceptualism and photographic deconstruction. Back in 2010, her still lifes were still remarkably traditional, even in their innovative exploration of the tropes of the genre – for the most part, they were images of real physical objects placed on real physical tables, riffing on the Dutch vanitas while simultaneously breaking it down. Two years later, she was beginning to challenge those still life boundaries, with the introduction of optically disorienting paper planes and shadows in place of tabletops and two dimensional image cutouts in place of and in conversation with real objects; with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that these were transitional bridge pictures between her earlier full three dimensionality and a more open ended 3D/2D dialogue.
Letinsky’s newest show shrugs off the last of the shackles of the old way of thinking, fully committing to images of things rather than their physical manifestations; there are few if any real objects or tabletops in these photographs, and we’d be hard pressed to call them still lifes anymore. What they have become instead is indeterminate, layered assemblages of ideas and allusions, fragments of visual references floating in a symphony of shifting white. And while close inspection of these pictures will uncover some familiar still life-style images of glassware, china, vases, and feathers, for the most part, these are pictures about pictures, or photographs of photographs, composed in a self-reflexive, inward looking manner.
The exhibit’s title Yours, More Pretty refers to the fact that many if not all of these new works appropriate sliced and diced versions of other artists’ work. The constructions are built up using barely recognizable snippets and echoes of announcement cards, Artforum ads, and jagged, cutout fragments of reproductions ranging from Matisse and Cezanne to Richter and Hesse; lest you think I am some genius art identifier, it was only with the help of the gallery staff that I able to recognize that the tiny slices were actually Demand, or Matta-Clark, or McElheny.
What I could see though was that these new pictures are Letinsky’s most elusive and inconclusive. By lifting visuals from other artists, whose artworks were already pictures of pictures or abstracted impressions of objects, she’s dropped down the rabbit hole of representation, coming out into an opposite world where shards of flat visuals coalesce into ephemeral collections and gatherings of often disconnected, rebus-like ideas. In many ways, she’s conceptually thrown the still life into the realm of abstraction, not just by having an abstract stand in for an orange or a water glass, but abstracting the whole foundation of the genre, turning it inside out until all that remains is a pared down, multi-dimensional framework for visual allusions and connections. While all of this brainy insider thinking is fine, if you’re not in on the art world references (and I will certainly admit to missing most of them), the pictures resolve back into minimal cut paper assemblages whose meaning is indirect and obscure, but whose visual balance (and imbalance) is intriguing; even as exercises in shape and form, or as studies in indeterminate spatial relationships, they’re worth exploring.
What I found most unexpected was that Letinsky has succeeded in pulling her deliberate still life investigations all the way into the realm of the contemporary rephotography movement, explicitly connecting the dots between the past and the “of the moment” present. That’s a transformational jump, and going forward, one that will likely open up additional artistic white space for her to explore.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $7000 to $8500, based on size. Letinsky’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.