Romeo & Juliet in Pictures @Sasha Wolf

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 23 black and white and color photographs from 18 different photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space.

The following photographers/artists have been included in the show, with the number of prints on view and image details as background:

  • Jules Aarons: 1 gelatin silver print, 1950, sized roughly 9×9, in an edition of 12+3AP
  • Elinor Carucci: 1 archival pigment print, 2003, sized 13×19, in an edition of 8
  • William Christenberry: 1 dye transfer print, 1975, sized roughly 13×9, in an edition of 7
  • Bruce Davidson: 1 gelatin silver print, 1959, sized 11×14
  • Jen Davis: 1 archival pigment print, 2004, sized 24×24, in an edition of 10
  • Elliott Erwitt: 1 gelatin silver print, 2005, sized 11×14
  • Walker Evans: 1 gelatin silver print, 1936/1971, sized 8×10, in an edition of 100
  • William Gedney: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1972, 1980, sized 11×14
  • Teenie Harris: 1 gelatin silver print, 1945, 13×17, in an edition of 7
  • Peter Kayafas: 1 gelatin silver print, 2013, sized 11×14
  • Collin LaFleche: 1 chromogenic print, 2007, sized 16×20, in an edition of 5
  • Paul McDonough: 1 gelatin silver print, 1972, sized 11×14
  • France Scully Osterman: 2 wax salt prints, 1998,2002, sized 8×10, in editions of 15
  • Robert Richfield: 1 archival inkjet print, 2010, sized 24×34, in an edition of 10
  • Manjari Sharma: 1 archival inkjet print, 2011, sized 16×22, in an edition of 15
  • Mark Steinmetz: 3 gelatin silver prints, 1995, 1997, 2001, sized 14×11 (or reverse) and 16×20, in editions of 30
  • Joseph Szabo: 2 gelatin silver print, 1971, 1976, sized roughly 10×10 and 11×17, vintage
  • Weegee: 1 gelatin silver print, 1945, sized 7×9

(Overly yellow installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Romeo and Juliet in Pictures had the potential to be a truly great show. Starting with a superlative thematic premise for a diverse group exhibit and then supporting it with plenty of solid image choices, it had many of the right initial ingredients, teasing us with its tantalizing promise. But sadly, there are just enough holes in the overall execution of the show that we’re left with the maddening feeling of an elusive missed opportunity. It’s a melancholy tragedy, in more ways than one.

The structural device that lies as the foundation of this show is perfectly simple and elegant: retell the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but do so using a variety of photographs that portray its many iconic scenes and famous moments. What makes this idea so smart is that it leverages a photograph’s inherent ability to have multiple interpretations, to take a picture made in one set of circumstances and see it with new eyes when placed in an alternate context. This show isn’t a literal selection of pictures from Shakespearean plays or films, but a metaphorical gathering, where images made across seven decades by nearly twenty different artists are sequenced into a coherent and representative whole that tells the famous love story in illustrated form.

The images are organized along the arc of the narrative and clustered into loose groups based on various scenes: feuding clans, the party where Romeo and Juliet first meet, their romance (including the balcony), various fights and duels, and finally the deaths of the two protagonists. With that story line as the backdrop, many of the image choices are spot on and often ingeniously inspired. Rival Capulets and Montagues are given form by 1950s Brooklyn gangs (Bruce Davidson), 1970s high school kids (Joseph Szabo), and more recent guys in white t-shirts (Collin LaFleche), all smoking to show off their masculinity. An image of a boy and girl sitting awkwardly on a wood plank porch (William Gedney) captures the initial hard to look at each other attraction the young lovers feel, and Mark Steinmetz’ portrait of a teenage girl posed against a balcony railing seems to have been destined to headline this show. The story continues with the kiss (Weegee, of all unexpected selections), the timid, uncertain romance (Jen Davis and Elinor Carucci), more wrestling among the boys (Jules Aarons), the fake sleep of Juliet (an ethereal portrait by France Scully Osterman), and finally a series of graves and shrines that populate the end of the tale (William Christenberry, Walker Evans, and a misty wet altar by Robert Richfield).

While I realize it’s unfair to review the show I wanted to see rather than the one that has been installed, I felt like this exhibit could have been so powerful if it had been 15 to 20 pictures larger. Then instead of lurching between scenes, there could have been more nuance and transition, capturing parts of the story that were overlooked here. Multiple images of the same scene could have offered more of the fascination of multiple perspectives found in the images of the rival families at the beginning of the show. And adding in some carefully chosen snippets of Shakespeare’s text to be placed on the walls near the appropriate pictures would have helped the experience be more complete (especially for those of us who have forgotten parts of the plot). With a little design flair, the collection could also have made a tremendously cool small book/catalog.

But with these wishes and improvements put aside, the show on view is still a satisfying and well edited recreation. It left me happily brainstorming other balcony pictures and sleeping portraits that I could remember, sifting and repurposing my memory and thinking about photographs inside a new thematic framework. It was a great reminder of how malleable and flexible this medium really is.

Collector’s POV: The works in this group show are priced as follows:

  • Jules Aarons: $1800
  • Elinor Carucci: $3500
  • William Christenberry: $8000
  • Bruce Davidson: $4000
  • Jen Davis: $4500
  • Elliott Erwitt: $3000
  • Walker Evans: NFS
  • William Gedney: NFS
  • Teenie Harris: $8000
  • Peter Kayafas: $2000
  • Collin LaFleche: $1250
  • Paul McDonough: $5500
  • France Scully Osterman: $1000 each
  • Robert Richfield: $3000
  • Manjari Sharma: $800
  • Mark Steinmetz: $1500 or $2000 each
  • Joseph Szabo: $3500 each
  • Weegee: NFS

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Read more about: Bruce Davidson, Charles (Teenie) Harris, Collin LaFleche, Elinor Carucci, Elliott Erwitt, France Scully Osterman/Mark Osterman, Jen Davis, Joseph Szabo, Jules Aarons, Manjari Sharma, Mark Steinmetz, Paul McDonough, Peter Kayafas, Robert Richfield, Walker Evans, Weegee (Arthur Felig), William Christenberry, William Gedney, Sasha Wolf Projects

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