Sara Cwynar, Flat Death @Foxy Production

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. All of the works are chromogenic prints mounted on Plexiglas, made in 2013 or 2014. Physical dimensions range from 30×24 to 60×44 (or reverse), and all of the prints are available in editions of 3+2AP. An artist’s book entitled Kitsch Encyclopedia (published by Blonde Art Books here) is available from the gallery. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Sara Cwynar’s work fits into the burgeoning all-the-rage genre of “photography about photography”, or is perhaps better categorized into the slightly smaller subgenre of “photography deconstructing photography”. This show interleaves imagery from a handful of recent projects, each one a constructed exercise in pulling apart and reassembling the component parts of how an image functions. It’s a conceptually thoughtful approach to studio-based picture making, thankfully executed with enough smart flair to prevent her complicated machinations from becoming too inward or academic.

Most of the photographs in this show have been arranged in an edge-to-edge frieze that circles two walls of the main gallery space, bringing different facets of Cwynar’s visual investigations into conversation with each other. Pages from a darkroom manual have been variously smeared, jittered, and glitched through a scanner, using a digital effect to interrupt a (now obsolete) analog process. Tired product shots of candy racks and gum displays have been cut into smaller tiles, reassembled, and rephotographed in multiple layers, creating seemingly simple images that dissolve into shifting uncertainty when seen up close. Tropes of nature photography and advertising imagery have been disrupted by stickers used to create trompe l’oeil illusions – a toucan nestles in jungle greenery made of rephotographed Post-It arrows, while gleaming watches perch on platforms seemingly constructed of gold alphabet labels. And post card shots of architecture have been reconsidered via towers of plastic cups set against trash bag backgrounds, subsequently broken into component images, held together with bright snippets of tape, and rephotographed once more.

The two larger works on view disassemble the classic composition of floral arrangements, where dense bunches of flowers are gathered into effervescent bundles of color. In Cwynar’s hands, these familiar bouquets are broken into component parts in the manner of Vik Muniz, piles of random colored junk photographed top down in the studio coalescing into recognizable forms when seen from a distance. But unlike Muniz, Cwynar seems uninterested in the matching or inversion created by the combination of her subject and materials, her attention placed on the breakdown and reconsideration of the bland visual thumbnail.

Each methodology on display here undercuts specific aesthetic patterns and usual assumptions, blasting apart our conventions for seeing and forcing us to rethink how photographs are supposed to function. It’s a heady experimental mix of photographic analysis, particularly rooted in the formal foundations of stock, commercial, and vernacular photography, and then split apart by constant rethinking and reuse. While this larger genre of work is on the verge of becoming painfully overcrowded, Cwynar’s efforts are evidence of a sophisticated sense for the pressure points where photography starts to unravel.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $3000 and $6800, based on size. Cwynar’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option or those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Duke University Press (here), in conjunction with the David L. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Jacketed hardcover, 9×9 inches, 176 pages, ... Read on.

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