Manjari Sharma, Darshan and Shower Series @ClampArt

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 color photographs from two separate photographic projects, hung in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. The 9 prints from the Darshan series are framed in elaborate brass frames and hung against dark grey walls in the main space. All of these works are digital c-prints, made between 2011 and 2013. The physical dimensions of the photographs on view are either 60×48 (in editions of 2) or 20×16 (in editions of 6); there are 6 works in the large size and 3 works in the small size on display. The 9 prints from the Shower Series are framed in black and hung agains white walls in the back room. All of these works are archival inkjet prints, made between 2009 and 2013. The physical dimensions of these photographs are either 30×20 (or reverse, in editions of 6) or 22×16 (or reverse, in editions of 15); there are 7 works in the large size and 2 works in the small size on display. The show also includes a video on the making of the Darshan images, playing on a screen in the back room. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Entering the transformed ClampArt space for Manjari Sharma’s show Darshan is unlike most of the Chelsea gallery going experiences to be found these days. The lights are dim, incense smokes in brass burners, and massive photographic images of Hindu gods and goddesses peer down from intricately hammered brass frames. Instead of the normal white cube austerity, the viewer in enveloped in a sensory experience not unlike a temple.

Sharma’s towering images combine the crispness of photography with the fantastical imaginings of traditional mythological paintings. Maa Laxmi perches in a lotus flower dripping a cascade of gold coins, Maa Durga rides a tiger, and Maa Kali wields a bloody sword and wears a belt of severed heads. Each deity holds symbolic objects, makes detailed hand gestures, and sits against an elaborately colored and often ornate backdrop. For the most part foregoing the digital manipulations of Photoshop, Sharma has built up these staged images with meticulous, painstaking attention to physical specifics, from cast rubber arms to styrofoam waves, creating flames and peacocks with equal dexterity. Each photograph is a carefully crafted, formal spectacle, both a respectful vision of a god or goddess in all his or her glory and a tangible object with an imposing presence. Her images bringing a modern freshness to a classical aesthetic.

In the back room, a second project from Sharma pulls inward to a much more intimate distance. Shot in her shower with the water falling and pure light drifting in, these portraits capture her sitters in moments of calm vulnerability. Faces stand dripping, alone and introspective, caught in a personal reverie. While countless photographers have searched for those fleeting moments when their sitters have their guard down (like after a boxing match or bull fight), Sharma’s approach has an understated naturalness to it. The works are not so much nudes as meditations, where rivulets of water and wet hair frame quiet repose.

Taken together, there’s more polish here than we might normally expect from a first New York solo. These two projects show promising range, bridging from the elaborately constructed to the gently pared down, offering both the bold and the subdued with equal flair.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The prints from the Darshan series are either $17000 (60×48) or $5000 (22×16). The works from the Shower Series are either $1200/$1950 (30×20) or $800 (22×16). Since this is Sharma’s first solo show in New York, it is not surprising that her work has little secondary market history; as such, gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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