Moyra Davey, Spleen. Indolence. Torpor. Ill-humour. @Murray Guy

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 photographic works and 1 video,  hung in the North and South gallery spaces and the entry area. The North gallery contains the video, Les Goddesses, 61 minutes, in an edition of 5, from 2011. The entry area contains 1 unframed grid of 25 c-prints from 2012, each with postage, tape and ink. Each print is 12×17, and the work is unique. The South gallery contains 1 unframed grid of 16 c-prints from 2011, each with postage, tape, ink, and labels with text supplied by Lynne Tillman. Each print is 17×12, and the work comes in an edition of 3. This gallery also contains 5 triptychs and 1 singe image. These works are unframed gelatin silver prints, sized 20×16, in editions of 3, taken in 1979. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Moyra Davey’s unabashedly analog, through-the-mail grids seem to have touched a curatorial nerve of late. They are intellectual, autobiographical, engaged with the written word, and an antidote (or corollary) to the flood of digital imagery that has engulfed photography. Her grids were included in the New Photography show at the MoMA last year and are now part of the Whitney Biennial (both linked below). Not many can claim that double play in such a short time span.

In this new show, Davey offers two recent grids, a video, and a selection of earlier vintage work. The Trust Me grid is a collection of still lifes: the contents of a medicine cabinet, a blue glass bottle, a group of shopping bags, a tiled wall, bugs caught in a spider web, strands of hair on the edge of a bathtub, a stuffed animal bunny, which are then woven together into a kind of anti-narrative form with snippets of text by Lynne Tillman. They are pictures about stories, rather than stories themselves. The Subway Writers grid is more literal; strangers on the subway read with a pencil, scribble in notebooks, or get lost in words amidst the chaos around them. They float in thought bubbles, oblivious to the din. It is writing as refuge from the crowd.

The vintage black and white photographs the South gallery have a Brown Sisters feel to them, but with an undercurrent of simmering sibling hostility. Four dark haired sisters pose in matching striped shirts, but there is a subtle closed reluctance here, a dark, arms crossed grudging compliance. Bodies are cut down into arrays of tattoos or tank tops in other shots, but the mix of familial emotions is never far from the surface. Davey probes some of this historical terrain in the video, Les Goddesses, where autobiographical scenes of family and close friends are examined via more cerebral investigations of various texts and essays. Her approach to telling (and/or reading) her personal story is inextricably mixed with a more rigorous arms length analysis.

I think the appeal of Davey’s work at this particular moment in photographic history derives from the earnestness with which she is digging into the relevance of the photographic image in one’s own personal history, as well as its connections to the written word as part of an overall redefined narrative form. In a time when the digital age is threatening to dumb down our discourse, Davey is re-exploring her own relationship with photography in a serious, high-minded, and thoughtful manner.

Collector’s POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows. The grid in the entry space is $40000, while the grid in the South gallery is $45000. The vintage prints from 1979 are $18000 each. Davey’s work has not yet reached the secondary market, so gallery retail is still the only viable option for interested collectors at this point.

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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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