Marlo Pascual, Remembering @Casey Kaplan

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 photographic works hung against white and dark grey walls in a series of three connected gallery spaces.

The following works are included in the show:

  • 1 digital C-print mounted on acrylic, conch shell, pedestal, 2010, sized 43x17x17 inches, unique
  • 1 diptych of pigment prints on Moab Somerset Enhanced Velvet 330gsm, poplar dowels, 2012, each print sized roughly 134×60 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 digital C-print mounted on museum board, 2009, sized roughly 30×23 inches, in an edition of 3+2AP
  • 1 digital C-print mounted on acrylic and Sintra, 2012, sized 79×60, unique
  • 1 digital C-print, brass candle sconces, white candles, silver pushpins, 2008-2009, sized roughly 37x30x5 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 diptych of digital C-prints mounted on acrylic and Sintra, 2016, sized roughly 37×44 and 36×44 inches, unique
  • 1 digital C-print mounted on acrylic and Sintra, stone, red oak shelf, 2014, roughly sized 40x72x8 inches, unique
  • 1 digital C-print mounted on acrylic, fluorescent light, rock, 2009, sized 40x66x31 inches, unique
  • 1 digital C-print mounted on aluminum, plant hanger, chain, 2009, sized 60x30x12 inches
  • 1 digital C-print mounted on acrylic and Sintra, 2009, sized 84×66 inches, in an edition of 1+1AP
  • 1 inkjet print mounted on museum board, 2017, sized roughly 16×22 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP

A small catalog of the show has been published by the gallery. (Cover shot below.)

Comments/Context: The image/object duality of photography is an inherently unresolvable conundrum located right at the heart of the medium. In it simplest shape-shifting definition, it reminds us that a photographic print is simultaneously an image and a physical presence – both a picture of something and a “something” in and of itself. For those with a conceptual bent, this both-places-at-once reality opens up a world of artistic possibilities and potential contradictions – ideas that have been probed and explored by everyone from the brainy photo-conceptualists of the 1960s and 1970s to the digital print-on-anything artists of the past decade or two. It seems that the elusive ability to make artworks that deliberately oscillate back and forth between two states (or two or more meanings) remains an artistic challenge worth wrestling with, even for contemporary photographers with plenty of available aesthetic alternatives.

While Margo Pascual had been making thoughtful image/object photographic works since completing her MFA in 2007 (Pascual died in 2020), the digital malleability and reproducibility aspects that have driven many of her artistic contemporaries weren’t really central to her thinking. Instead, she was experimenting with the atmospheric possibilities of archival/vintage imagery and cinematic stills, and physically disrupting them with elemental sculptural interventions. The path she was exploring was activation, and the ways that the meaning of an image could be upended (or multiplied) by a particular interruption or reconsideration.

At the entry of this tightly-edited retrospective sampler show lies a pedestal, with a black-and-white photograph of a dark-haired woman in profile placed on the flat surface, and a large white conch shell physically sitting on top of the photograph, covering the woman’s ear. It’s the kind of incongruous activation that makes Pascual’s work so durably intriguing – it seems so simple (almost ridiculous), but it stubbornly refuses to settle into one interpretation. Is the shell there to bluntly interrupt/frustrate our viewing of the woman? Or is it meant literally, like a kind of oddball decoration, perhaps an oversized earring? Or is it more open-ended and mystical, like the woman listening to the sounds of the ocean? Pascual’s seemingly effortless gesture leads to multiple endpoints, depending on how we read the intentions of the image, the object, and the resulting combination.

A turn around the corner leads us into a darkened gallery with a single work hung on the far wall. In it, a smiling woman (seen in a black-and-white photograph, from perhaps the 1940s) looks upward, the sparkle in her eyes coming from two lit candle flames – Pascual has mounted two brass candle scones to the face of the print, with the candles aligned so that the flames interrupt (and replace) our view of the woman’s eyes. Here again the activation is disarmingly simple, but not entirely obvious. Is this supposed to be camp? Or horror? Or even quasi-literal, with the flames providing the brightness in her gaze (and the melting wax standing in for her tears)? The aesthetics recall classic Hollywood, but the mood is altogether shifting and uncertain.

One of Pascual’s most well-known works has been placed in the center of the second gallery space, featuring a large 1950s-era head shot portrait of a dark-haired woman which has been impaled on a long white fluorescent light tube. It’s a disconcerting celebrity still meets Dan Flavin combination, especially since the bright white line emerges from just underneath the woman’s eye like a laser beam. But there is an unexpected elegance to be found in the overall angles and proportions of the work (almost like an X), which is then perplexingly upended by the presence of a rock placed to brace the bottom of the light bulb. Pascual provides us something familiar, then brashly interrupts us, and generally never lets us rest.

And while there is a cleverly direct image/object link to be found in a print of a hanging basket of leaves and flowers hung from an actual garden bracket (and chain) mounted on the gallery wall, many of the other works on view offer a more subtle form of visual or spatial inversion to get us thinking. An image of a white cat is enlarged to the point that it dominates the end of the front gallery space, at once comical, imposing, regal, and almost menacing. A pair of hands replicates the pose found in magazine ads for nail polish or jewelry (or Horst’s surreal mix of human and mannequin hands from the early 1940s), but in Pascual’s version, the fingernails have been honed to sharp points, introducing an element of strange implied threat or horror. And two works connect back to the cinematic motifs of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, from a nude woman in the shower seen now behind a pebbled glass door (instead of a curtain) to an image of Janet Leigh’s wide-open eye perched near a window and striped by a slashing line of light. In each case, Pascual is actively playing with our expectations for how an image will function (or what it will mean), and intentionally tweaking that line of visual thinking with understated ingenuity.

While this survey of Pascual’s work isn’t extensive, it successfully provides an overview of the austere clarity that makes her work memorable. Each of the works on display juggles multiple ideas and interpretations, but it does so with a sense of controlled, pared down precision that leaves nothing to chance. The visual humor and irreverence to be found in Pascual’s work likely leads some to underestimate its intelligence. This smart show cuts against that overly easy reading, offering us the opportunity to think more deeply about how a single exactingly considered intervention can unravel a photograph.

Collector’s POV: Aside from one small photographic print available for $16000, the works on view in this show were either NFS, on loan from other collections, or available only to institutional collectors. Pascual’s work has little consistent secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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