Miranda Lichtenstein: Polaroids @The Gallery at Hermès

JTF (just the facts): A total of 46 photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against light grey walls in the atrium gallery space on the fourth floor of the store. All of the works are Polaroid prints, made between 2002 and 2013. Physical sizes are generally 5×4 (or reverse), and all of the prints are unique. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: A tangle of flowers in a vase, table top still lifes of jumbled bottles and fruit, single specimen blossoms – after hundreds of years of art history, you’d think these straightforward studio subjects would have been dead and buried long ago. But whether it is the spatial relationships of elemental forms, the graceful line of a lone silhouette, or the taut balance of color and texture across a composition, the challenges of these primary set-ups draw us back again and again, like complicated puzzles that can be solved in an infinite number of ways.

This tightly edited show traces more than a decade of Miranda Lichtenstein’s recent studio work, providing a handful of images from each successive project and allowing us to follow the evolution of her visual thinking. The journey begins with a residency in Giverny, where she shot freshly cut flowers from Monet’s famous garden against blank backgrounds, using hand painted shadows used to disorient our perceptions – the flower in front and its silhouette in the back are mysteriously unmatched, often coming from entirely different species. She returned to this approach a few years later, turning up the complexity a bit with a second layer of shadows and more extreme contrasts between the specimens.

A black and white interlude between the two series found her playing with silhouettes against the rippled lines of curtains, where linear verticality was a backdrop for the shadowy natural forms. Some of those ideas were reprised a few years later in monochrome floral shadows washed in faded primary colors, with interrupting slashes of darkness.

During a fellowship in Italy, Lichtenstein turned her attention to the classic table top still life, reconsidering the genre via mirrors to distort the controlled space. Checkered tablecloths were warped and twisted, oranges had visual conversations with themselves, and wilting flowers were multiplied and reflected back in echoes, the best works adding shape shifting distortions to the bottles and vases that littered the studio.

In the most recent photographs on view, Lichtenstein uses Japanese washi paper like a frontal screen, making still lifes of clear bottles and geometric cubes emerge from a haze of shimmering wavy lines. The textural scrims obscure the objects in the background, further abstracting them into singular forms and unidentifiable cascades of lines.

Seen together, these projects are proof of Lichtenstein’s restlessness as a conceptual experimenter – just when we see a visual motif emerge, she quickly morphs it into something else, each successive step an ongoing evolution of piled up ideas and innovations, allowing for both methodical progression and serendipitous flashes of tangential thinking. While there are image highlights to be singled out in each series, this survey tells a broader story about Lichtenstein’s smart artistic process, documenting her tenaciousness in mapping a seemingly familiar genre.

Collector’s POV: Shows at this venue are more like museum exhibits that true gallery shows, as there are no posted prices. Miranda Lichtenstein is represented in New York by Elizabeth Dee (here), and larger archival pigment prints are available for many of the images on view here. Her work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Poursuite Editions (here). Softcover, 21 x 29 cm, 144 pages, with 107 black-and-white and color reproductions. Includes an essay by Clément Ghys ... Read on.

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