Leigh Ledare @Mitchell-Innes & Nash

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale photographic works and one room size installation, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in a series of three connected gallery spaces. The 7 works in the front room (from the series An Invitation) are photolithographs on archival newsprint with silkscreening and pencil, all made in 2012. The prints are sized roughly 91×48, and are available in editions of 16. This project also includes a redacted contract, displayed in a glass case. The back room is a full room installation (titled Double Bind and dated 2010) consisting of gelatin silver prints by both Ledare and Adam Fedderly, as well as an assortment of print media, magazine pages, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera, either framed or displayed in cases. The middle room contains a stack of 6 bound artist zines on a pedestal, filled with reproductions of assorted found media. (Installation shots below, courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash.)

Comments/Context: In a jaded, seen-it-all art world and a broader society bombarded by increasingly extreme imagery of all kinds, it takes a certain kind of risk-taking artist to truly shock us anymore. And yet, Leigh Ledare’s taboo-busting explicit images of his mother taken a few years ago were the kind of pictures that polarized viewers almost universally. Ledare’s intimate nudes of his mother masturbating, having sex, and engaging in a variety of erotic poses were explosively charged with the tensions of the mother-son relationship. Viewers were either attracted to repulsed, surprised by the against-all-rules electricity of the moments, or genuinely unnerved and creeped out by the whole situation. Like them or not, Ledare’s photographs crossed boundaries and hit nerves.

Ledare’s newest projects step back from that claustrophobic one-on-one immediacy and investigate a pair of triangular relationships, introducing third parties into complex relationship equations and expanding the layers of interpersonal dynamics at work. In An Invitation, Ledare takes on a private commission to make a series of erotic portraits of a high profile married woman, with the tacit understanding of her husband. Over the course of a week, Ledare worked together with his subject to make a set of seven explicit nudes, often with legs spread, hands tied, or in other provocative set-ups. Working under the constraints of a highly restrictive legal contract (a redacted version is on display in a vitrine), he produced both a private edition for the client and a public portfolio with the sitter’s face obscured. In these public works, Ledare paired the photographs with lithographs of newspapers from each successive day, adding in hand written commentary about his thoughts at the time at the bottom.

What’s engaging about these artworks is the complex stew of emotional connections and roles they represent. Ledare is both ostensibly the artist in charge, but also clearly being directed by his client; in one caption, Ledare mentions that his sitter wants to recreate works like those he made with his mother, which is of course, exactly what he doesn’t want to do. The pictures also touch on the three way dynamic of Ledare being inserted into a seemingly arms length marriage, where the husband is offstage and Ledare is becoming a kind of confidant for the unsatisfied wife – what could be more intimate than making a series of explicit nudes together? All this internal conflict is then placed against a backdrop of everyday public life, of news that comes and goes and is remarkably disconnected from these charged personal machinations. There is a carefully plotted battle for control going on here, and that push and pull gives the works their tension.

The installation in the back room investigates another triangular relationship, this one between the artist, his ex-wife, and her new husband. The set-up is like a scientific experiment, with the situation repeated twice to verify the findings – in this case, Ledare and Meghan traveled to a cabin in upstate New York and took hundreds of photographs over four days, the same trip repeated later with Meghan and her new husband Adam as the travelers, with Adam taking pictures in many of the same exact locations. Ledare then paired these two sets of photographs in side-by-side juxtapositions (his images on black mats, Adam’s on white), interrupting the progression with a selection of appropriated magazine ads and found ephemera.

The unexpected fascination to be found in this project is how it accents the changing nuances of Meghan’s moods and behavior. With Ledare, her body language is reluctant and closed – hair up, often tightly clothed, clearly annoyed by having to pose, her expressions a not particularly hidden range of wariness and weary resignation; she is so done with this kind of thing. And yet with her new husband, in nearly identical situations, she is loose and easy going – hair down, open, coy and playful, comfortable posing nude, exuding warmth and intimate happiness. The intermittent appropriated interjections by Ledare function like a wry ongoing commentary on the situation: an image of a man with a monkey on his back, an Alka Seltzer ad with the tagline “oh, what a relief it is”, a Chivas Regal ad with the message “it’s better to give than to receive – with certain possible exceptions”, and a postcard touting the marvels of the Loire Valley (the card shows a bronze equestrian statue) paired with an image of his ex-wife’s bent over backside. My reaction to the whole spectacle was that it was achingly sad. If you ever doubted photography’s ability to capture the spectrum of emotions to be found in single gestures, spend some time with this multi-layered exposed nerve, as it’s still painfully raw.

After seeing Ledare’s images of his mother, I think it might have been easy to discount him as a shock for shock’s sake bomb thrower. But these two new projects find him continuing to explore too-close-for-comfort personal relationships with subtely, probing their uncertainties with surprising attention to complexity. He’s tackling hard, emotionally volatile situations, and the results are often engrossing.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The photolithographs from An Invitation are $18000 each, while the room sized installation Double Bind seemed destined for a museum, with no obvious public price. Ledare’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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One comment

  1. Pete /

    I’m both repelled but impressed, and mentally filing him alongside Chad Kultgen, whose book ‘Average American Male’ I’m a massive fan of. Great piece.

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