JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 large scale color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and behind the reception desk. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2011 and 2013. Physical dimensions range from 24×32 to 48×63, and each image is available in three sizes in total editions of 15. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Decode (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Constructing elaborate environments for the sole purpose of photographing them has become an increasingly common artistic process in contemporary photography. Part of the draw of such an approach is the elegant conceptual inversion that takes place – the camera doesn’t know it’s been set up in front of a staged scene and so records it with the same fidelity as it would a “real” landscape, allowing the artist to both control every aspect of the composition and simultaneously twist the notion of traditional photographic truth. Thomas Demand and James Casebere are two of the best known practitioners of this kind of constructive photography, and Lori Nix and her extended project The City fit squarely into this mode of image making.
Nix’ long term series centers on a post-apocalyptic, people-less future, where familiar indoor settings have become scenes of slow decay and disuse, left to rot by the vanished inhabitants. Meticulous hardly seems to be an extreme enough word to describe Nix’ attention to detail in these dioramas. Moss encroaches on a space museum, while hawks nest in the futuristic steel rafters. The dome of a grand library reading room has tumbled inward, exposing a chaotic mess of strewn books and papers to the glorious sunset overhead. And a tree branch pokes through the wall of an athletic shoe store, the colorful array of offerings still largely intact along the wall. Every inch of these rooms has been painstakingly recreated, down to the stained ceiling tiles and backlit menus at a molding Chinese takeout and the hieroglyphic wallpaper and toppled over slot machines at a destroyed Egyptian themed casino. An image of Nix’ own studio redoubles the complexity: a photograph of a diorama of another diorama makes your head spin with its layers of painstaking recreation.
While photorealist painters used one medium to imitate another, Nix’ works (and those of her like minded contemporaries) use photography to upend itself. Her rusted, sand filled, B train subway car looks plausibly real but is ultimately a deft doll house fabrication, leaving us not only with the quiet despair of the content, but also with a struggle to reconcile that fantasy with the exacting precision that our eyes can plainly see. The best of the works here fool us for just that moment, and then send us away agog over their visual artifice.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $3000 and $7000 each. Nix’ work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.