Vera Lutter, Samar Hussein @Nitsch

JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 color giclee prints of hibiscus flowers, framed in white with no mat, and hung in one darkened room. The prints are 20×30, each made between 2003 and 2009, and the images are sold together as a portfolio in an edition of 12. There is also a single large video screen, with 500 additional hibiscus images displayed in an endless loop (made in edition of 3). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Vera Lutter’s newest work, on display now at Carolina Nitsch, is a eulogy for the civilian deaths (more than 100000 since 2003) that have occurred during the Iraq War. Using the life cycle of a hibiscus blossom as her metaphor, she has lightly superimposed the names of individual dead across the bottom of these lush color florals, printing them as normal photographs or including them in a video loop that blankets a large wall in the gallery. In either format, each up close image is dense with pink and yellow, the flower often twisted or puckered as it begins to wither.

We first saw this new project from Lutter at the Armory show, and as flower collectors, we were immediately drawn to it. Given the passing of time and the chance to revisit the images again in a gallery setting, I have come around to seeing the message she is sending with more clarity, and now think of these images less as botanicals, but more as a carefully constructed political statement. Each blossom is impossibly beautiful and fragile, and the element of elapsed time (more obvious in the video roll call) shows the flowers slowly drying up and dying. As the images relentlessly flash on the screen, they become symbols of the people who are no longer alive, each so delicate and easily broken.

I have to admit that while there has been an endless stream of documentary photography of the Iraq War coming from embedded photojournalists, I don’t remember many other overtly political photography projects that have come out of the conflict (in fact, the only one I can name is Alec Soth’s broader portrayal of the Bush years, and that is not particularly Iraq focused). There clearly must be many more that I have missed or forgotten, so please give me a pointer to other Iraq related projects in the comments, as appropriate.

Collector’s POV: The Samar Hussein portfolio is priced at $10000; I didn’t get the price for the video loop DVD. Vera Lutter is represented in New York by Gagosian Gallery (here). Her more recognizable camera obscura work has become generally available at auction, ranging between $7000 and $85000, mostly dependent on size. We actually already own one of these city pieces (here) and are always looking for others that are small and well composed.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Bomb magazine interview, 2003 (here)
  • Kunsthaus Graz exhibition, 2004 (here)
  • MOCP collection (here)

Vera Lutter, Samar Hussein
Through June 20

Carolina Nitsch Project Room (artnet site here)
534 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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Read more about: Vera Lutter, Carolina Nitsch, Gagosian Gallery

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