Marcia Resnick, Re-visions & Other Visions @Deborah Bell

JTF (just the facts): A total of 40 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the side hallway.

The following works have been included in the show, grouped by project name:

  • 1 gelatin silver print on linen, 1974, sized roughly 50×73 inches, unique
  • See Changes: 2 gelatin silver prints with applied oil paint and pencil, 1974, sized 16×20 inches
  • See: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1974, sized 16×20 inches
  • Landscape/Loftscape: 4 gelatin silver print diptychs, 1976, each 16×20 inches
  • Two Girls: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1975, sized 8×10 inches
  • Re-Visions: 16 gelatin silver prints with pencil, 1978, sized 6×9, 8×10, 16×20 inches
  • Punks, Poets, and Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys 1977-1982: 5 gelatin silver prints, mid 1970s, 1978, 1979, sized 8×10 or 11×14 (or reverse)
  • Resnick’s Believe -It-Or-Not: 8 gelatin silver prints with captions in pencil, 1979, 1980, 1981, sized 14×11 inches

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: This gallery show of the work of Marcia Resnick is a straightforward career survey in the truest sense. It skims along the tops of the waves, providing a selection of representative works from the photographer’s best known projects, with a sprinkling of lesser known but smartly crafted works and rarities added in to provide further context. For those who have heard Resnick’s name in passing of late, but have yet to fully take in the breadth of her artistic perspective, this show provides an effective one-stop summary.

With the recent resurgence in interest in 1970s feminist photography and female photographers more broadly, Resnick’s durable contributions are slowly being rediscovered and better appreciated, with museums and major collectors diving back into her work from that period to fill in the now more obvious gaps in their key holdings. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Resnick’s work from the 1970s provides an important bridge between photoconceptualism and feminist photography, her cleverness about the medium itself and its limits often used to interrogate female roles and vantage points with incisive off-kilter visual humor.

Resnick’s most famous project is a series of images entitled Re-Visions she made in 1978, and vintage prints from the project form the main body of this gallery show. The images track episodes in the life of an adolescent girl, matching her interior thoughts and confessions (found in hand-written pencil annotations) with carefully staged photographs. The pairings are consistently inspired and self-deprecating, the stories of the young woman’s routines, interests, fears, quirks, and obsessions made incisively visual. Here, singular moments find her reading with a flashlight under a sheet at night, re-enacting scenes from violent movies with a kitchen knife, sneaking licks of icing from her birthday cake, reading the endings of books before the beginnings, and confessing her mortal fear of clowns, among other teenage truths. A high-quality facsimile reprint edition of Resnick’s original Re-Visions photobook was published last year (reviewed here), making the entire body of work that much more accessible, and the hand-trimmed, painstakingly captioned vintage prints on display here are now deservedly sought after.

In a sense, the rest of the show provides before and after context for Re-Visions. Resnick’s early works are more overtly conceptual, exploring the nature of seeing (and re-seeing), and experimenting with subtle overpainting to transform photographic clarity into approximation, with the Two Girls images from 1975 offering the most overt stepping stone precursor to Re-Visions. (A 2016 gallery show, reviewed here, focused more deeply on this earlier work.) During and after Re-Visions, Resnick turned her attention to portraiture, with a particular interest in the downtown New York scene. Many of these images were of men, providing an intriguing foil to the female issues that had occupied her previously. (A 2011 gallery show, reviewed here, focused on her late 1970s portraits.)

One of the discoveries of this show is a series of works Resnick made in the late 1970s for The Soho Weekly News. These were published under the catchy title Resnick’s Believe-It-Or-Not, and featured eccentric, often tongue-in-cheek paired stories (typically keyed on a play on words) and imagery. In many ways, these expanded on the format of Re-Visions, adding much longer hand-written texts to the bottom of each image. In one work, “Cowlickboy”, she unpacks the etymology of the “cowboy” moniker, linking it (and the wearing of large brimmed hats) to a history of uncooperative hair. “Lugar 38 Perfume” takes the idea of Yves St. Laurent’s Opium a few steps further for a gun-toting clientele. And “Carter J. Oral” tells the story of a man who “put his money where his mouth is” by chewing dimes and quarters, his dental breakage leading to the development of plastic chattering teeth. Resnick’s sharp wit and cunning image play make each of these pieces feel both ingenious and wonderfully ridiculous.

When looking back at vintage photographs from decades past, it’s always tempting to consider whether the pieces have “aged well” from our vantage point in the present – are the images still resonant and do the works still challenge us with their ideas? I think part of the reason Resnick is having a quiet resurgence now is that many of her works feel surprisingly fresh and relevant, both the compositions and the conceptual structures that lie behind them still sharp and intellectually prickly in ways that keep us coming back.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $4500 and $20000. Resnick’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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