Multiply, Identify, Her @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing photographic works, collages, and videos by 10 artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space on the lower level of the museum. The show was organized by Marina Chao.

The following artists/photographers are included in the show, with the number of works on view and their details provided as background:

  • Geta Brătescu: 1 mirror, wood, inkjet prints, 2001
  • Stephanie Dinkins: 4 videos, sound, 4 minutes, 2017
  • Christina Fernandez: 5 black and white multiple exposures, 1999
  • Barbara Hammer: 5 chromogenic prints, mylar, x-ray collage, 2014
  • Roni Horn: 1 set of 96 chromogenic prints, 1997-2000
  • Wangechi Mutu: 1 collage painting on linoleum, 2015, 2 watercolor collage on paper diptychs, 2018
  • Gina Osterloh: 1 16mm film, silent, 5:30, 2014
  • Sondra Perry: 1 video, bicycle, workstation, 2016
  • Lorna Simpson: 4 collage, ink on paper, 2011
  • Mickalene Thomas: 1 eight-channel video, sound, 23:18, 2018

A small catalog of the show has been published by the museum and is available in the bookshop. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Perhaps as a balancing corrective to the parade of old school white maleness (Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt) on view on the ICP’s main floor, this group show sampler in the basement takes a contemporary look at a range of identity-based work made by women. Its main premise is that female identity isn’t necessarily defined in some simple singular way, but instead comes together as a shifting combination of forces and characteristics that aggregate in hybrid forms and multiplied layers.

Faces are a logical place to start when searching for clues to personal identity, and three artists examine how the face does and doesn’t provide useful answers. Roni Horn made 48 pairs of snapshots of her niece over the course of several years, and in each case, the two images were taken just seconds apart. But in even that tiny slice of time, the teenager’s expressions change subtly, documenting a wide range of emotional states and possible personas, that single face providing the venue for nearly a hundred separate versions of herself. Christina Fernandez uses historic photographs of ethnic Mexican women made by famous masters (like Manuel Alvarez-Bravo and Tina Modotti) as a pathway into probing the nuances of her own contemporary identity. Her pensive double exposure works marry the faces from the source photos with her own face, creating unstable doubled visages that reconsider how her Chicana roots fit into her Los Angeles present. And Geta Brătescu has collaged an image of her face onto a mirror, adding a second set of eyes above the usual pair. When merged with the reflected face of a viewer, a dizzying intermingled effect occurs, where once discrete expressions combine and shimmer, making it difficult to discern separate identities.

Another group of artists uses collage effects and processes to represent the interleaved layering of potential selves. Barbara Hammer’s nude self portraits place the artist’s body amid various medical technologies and equipment (often adorned with unsettling skull and crossbones warning signs), the resulting images then physically combined with borders of shiny crumpled mylar and bulbous X-ray cutouts. The resulting works are a layered mediation on aging, illness, and mortality, with dark disease seeming to take over. Lorna Simpson takes the heads of Ebony magazine models (from the 1950s to the 1970s) and reimagines their hairstyles with expressive sweeps of colored ink, the artful pileups, bubbles, and elegant swooshes of hair gracefully altering our expectations for black female identity. And Wangechi Mutu’s collages mix intimate floral imagery with swirling networks of painted organic tunnels and dripping nodules, the transparent layers creating a seductively interwoven sense of earthy connection.

Two others take a more active (and physical) approach to the search for identity. In Gina Osterloh’s quietly mesmerizing black and white film, she slowly dances with her own shadow (cast in front of her on a white wall), her gestures of touching, pressing, and moving becoming a kind of delicate process of investigation and inquiry. Outlines and distortions transform the edges of her normal self, creating suggestions of sidekicks and alter egos. And Mickalene Thomas lip syncs to a powerful 1953 Eartha Kitt song in a split screen video, her re-performance placing her in an alternate version of herself, the plaintive search for black angels echoing through the galleries again and again. And the final two artists in the show explore the identity issues (and opportunities) raised by new kinds of technology mediation: Stephanie Dinkins converses with Bina48, an advanced social robot, asking open ended questions about the essence of algorithmic consciousness, while Sondra Perry uses a digital avatar to deliver a performative discourse on interfaces, representation, and race.

Seen together, Multiply, Identify, Her delivers a tightly-edited compendium of evolving ideas about female identity, without becoming too curatorial abstract or arcane. At a historical moment when we are becoming increasingly aware of and comfortable with a broad range of possible selves, this show celebrates that shifting removal of strict one-way definition, encouraging new combinations and approximations to emerge and following them toward more complex and nuanced definitions. It’s a solid sampler built from resonant examples, and one of the better thematic group shows of the summer.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices, and given the broad group show format, we will forgo our usual discussion of individual gallery representations and secondary market histories.

Read more about: Barbara Hammer, Christina Fernandez, Geta Brătescu, Gina Osterloh, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, Roni Horn, Sondra Perry, Stephanie Dinkins, Wangechi Mutu, International Center of Photography (ICP Museum)

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