Moyra Davey, Ornament and Reproach @Murray Guy

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 works, generally unframed/pinned directly to the walls, and displayed in the entry area, the two main gallery spaces, and the back office. The show includes sets of black and white and color photographs (many of them folded and mailed), as well as supporting artworks (paintings and a musical composition by other artists). The complete checklist includes (artworks by Moyra Davey unless otherwise noted):

  • 2 gelatin silver prints, 1984/1986, 20×63 or 20×47, unique
  • 3 gelatin silver prints, 1984/1986, 20×31 each, unique
  • 1 set of 5 archival inkjet diptychs, 2013, 30×40 each, edition of 3+2AP
  • 1 archival inkjet print, 2013, 47×32, edition of 12+2AP
  • 1 set of 10 c-prints, tape, postage ink, 2013, 18×12 each, unique
  • 1 set of 34 c-prints, tape, postage, ink, 2013, 12×18 or 12×12 each, unique
  • 1 set of 26 c-prints, tape, postage, ink, 2013, 12×18 each, unique
  • 2 ink on unprimed linen, 2013, 27×23 and 20×17 (Nestor Kruger)
  • 1 ink on unprimed canvas, 2013, 27×23 (Sally Spath)
  • 1 musical composition (sitting on piano), 2013 (David Lang)

Comments/Context: Moyra Davey’s artworks are thoughtful and considered, the kind that benefit from knowing the details of the backstory; with the aid of a few well placed explanations and ideas, each one opens up to reveal multiple layers of meaning and personal connection. This show is a reconsideration of an exhibit that recently took place at the Presentation House (here) in Vancouver, and it mixes some of Davey’s early work with a selection of new projects, offering a smart, well-integrated sampler of her methodical and carefully reasoned artistic approach.

The show’s title comes from a memorial tablet Davey found in a London church (an image of which is displayed on the piano), a wonderfully arch tribute to one Jael Boscawen (1647-1730): “beloved, admired, revered by all as well as by her relations as being confessedly the ornament and at the same time the tacit reproach of a wicked age.” Davey lets this phrase unfold as an inspiration, turning it into a series of photographs of Trinity Church Cemetery. Massive uprooted trees (the result of Hurricane Sandy) mix with roosting parrots, overpass girders, and Mayor Ed Koch’s ostentatious tombstone, each mailed to curator John Goodwin, each a cyclical meditation on the original quote. Each folded, battered mailer was affixed with strips of neon tape and stamps, adding a bright jumping decorative buoyancy to the snowbound tombstones and dark tangled roots. Goodwin then placed a few of these images on his piano and took photographs of them, his shots ultimately resent back to him by Davey, creating sent images of sent images, objects of objects. A musical score was later composed by David Lang based on the artwork (the sheet music set on the piano in the gallery and played at the opening), and one of the silkscreened paintings on view replaces the shows opening and closing dates with the birth/death dates of Jael Boscawen. Iteration after iteration deliberately builds, the work a slow aggregation of shared, evolving, recombining ideas.

In the back room, another set of Davey mailers riffs on the death of British psychedelic singer Kevin Ayers. Exchanged with Tate Liverpool curator Darren Pih, the photographs capture the nuances of vinyl record fairs, with buyers pawing through bins of records (with crates enticingly marked Early Belgian Rave, Hacienda Classics, or Hard House), delicately inspecting platters in the light. The images evoke the patter of flipping, the smell of dust, the rustle of cardboard, and the murmurs of discovery, with one image set apart from the grid, a newspaper clipping with an Ayers quote that begins with “I think the clever people are those who do”, which is then cut off and finished by Davey (handwritten) with “as little as possible”. Again, she begins in one place, lets the artwork wander, and then reconnects, weaving the layers together.

Early black and white works from the mid 1980s find Davey playing with mirrored views and multiple image sets, a tumble of hair or the echo of a face and a stone statue visually probing time and memory. Her more recent grids of empty liquor bottles and scraped and eroded Lincoln pennies consider these same themes, the bottles shot as glittering counter top still lifes memorializing a series of night befores, the pennies scarred, oxidized, and disfigured, each an emblem of journeys taken. Another of the show title paintings (in the back office) once again replaces the open and close dates, this time with the beginning and ending of her time in psychoanalysis. Every work on view is tracing and reconsidering time, slowing it down to let it flow back on itself.

While previous shows of Davey’s work have provided a glimpse of one of more of her working methods (a grid of mailers, a video, a few black and whites here and there), this one felt much tighter and better integrated, her inspirations and impressions easier to follow. Seen together, all the disparate projects and subject matter resonate more fully as facets of a larger multi-threaded investigation. What’s exciting is that her ideas are getting more nuanced and complex as she revisits certain familiar subjects: the copperheads more gritty and decayed, the vinyl becoming a platform for a larger narrative, the grids of mailers more iterative. She’s digging in further, toward the root of these issues of personal time and memory, and the work is getting richer.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The larger mailer sets range from $32000 to $65000, generally based on the number of images. The early black and white photographs are NFS, while the bottle diptychs are $15000. Davey’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Moyra Davey, Murray Guy

One comment

  1. Pete /

    Thank you for sharing this…

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