Pictures

by Donald Goddard


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Roe Ethridge Nancy
Roe Ethridge.
Nancy, 2000.
C-print,
38" x 30".

At the beginning is a fairly large color photo portrait (torso) of a blonde young woman, Nancy, by Roe Ethridge. Toward the end is a larger portrait of a dark-haired young woman, Untitled #12 from End of an Age Series, by Paul Graham. Simple human portraits, faces, colors restricted to Caucasian skin, blue and brown eyes, blonde and black hair, red-striped and black shirts, light and dark neutral backgrounds. Between are 27 other works--photos, paintings, one on hanging cloth, and another with wrapping paper and plastic--by 21 artists. The range of colors is sometimes harsher (the subjects certainly are), but somehow always within the compass of those portraits, and the compass of their emotions. I don't know how they might appear in another context, but here they absorb and at the same time give life to everything around them. They are the conscience, or at least the filter, of the rest of the work, the curator, and the viewer, especially since Nancy is the first picture one sees entering the gallery. Simple, complex human portraits.

The two young women define where we are, and because they are there it is more difficult (for me, at least) to dismiss the art and situations that come between. ("Oh yes, David Goldblatt is South African. He does apartheid. That's enough to know, isn't it?" Or, "Rebecca Quaytman does the Holocaust. That takes care of that." "Robert Ryman does dematerialization. There's nothing to look at.")


Matjee After Assault
David Goldblatt.
Fifteen-year-old Lawrence Matjee After His Assault by the Security Police, Khotso House, de Villiers Street
, October 25, 1985.
Black-and-white photograph,
20" x 16".

But it is impossible not to find meanings between these two women. It isn't that any work would be appropriate, but that this work is sometimes against our preconceptions. Art like Ryman's that is thought to be unemotional, above emotion, is actually full of emotion. Next to Nancy, Goldblatt's black-and-white photograph of people--black, white, and colored irrevocably associated--on a Johannesburg street corner seems to borrow Nancy for one of its figures. Then Goldblatt's people become the four irrepressible, uniformed Asian girls (three on cell phones, the other tatting) in Nikki S. Lee's The Schoolgirls Project (22), and they in turn become Rineke Dijkstra's two boys in plaid bathing suits on the beach in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and that line ends with another youth in Goldblatt's A Farmer's Son with His Nursemaid, Heimweeberg, Nietverdlend, Western Transvaal, posed in front of a fence with barbed wire on top. The line is continuous, from one life to the next, and it must be understood that way.

On the opposite wall the argument is more abstract, ethereal. It starts with Rachel Harrison's Untitled (Perth Amboy Series), a color photo in which a young woman is seen from the outside to press her hand against the window of a suburban house, the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary (she appears again, later in the show). The line proceeds to the painting of another architectural site of transformation in Francis Alys's Untitled diptych, Ryman's small bordered and bracketed cosmos called Container, and Felix Gonzalez Torres's untitled c-print of a decimated forest in what appears to be a news photo made into a jigsaw puzzle. On the end wall is Joachim Koester's brilliantly clear color photo of the edge of a forest with an old, failing bush or tree in the foreground, into which everything seems to devolve or perhaps from which everything evolves.

These are the basic conditions. Then the two lines seem to collide in Gallery 2, where there are a variety of public-private spaces and lives--useful, degraded, human, all photographs: Candida Hofer's Yale Public Library containing the world's knowledge in an array of card catalogues; Tom Burr's series of six photos on public restrooms built like little temples; Harrison again at the same Perth Amboy site but now showing more of the house; Josef Strau's The Nazis of Suburbia, seven small marked photos that implicate us in a familiar landscape (in Germany, to be sure); and Thomas Demand's Raum, with its near demonically but faultlessly destroyed, broken, dismantled interior space made of completely nondescript, mostly artificial materials. And at the end, of course, Goldblatt's Fifteen-year-old Lawrence Matjee After His Assault by the Security Police, Khotso House, de Villiers Street sits there looking out at us with his two broken arms in casts (how to be a white person). This is the room of consequences in our more or less innocent lives.


100 West Hastings
Stan Douglas.
Every Building on 100 West Hastings
, 2001.
C-print,
20" x 16".

In this second gallery, the line continues almost literally through the extremely long, narrow panorama of Stan Douglas's Every Building on 100 West Hastings, in which the mostly two- and three-story buildings are all connected one to the next. It's a kind of architectural lesson that allows us to see everything at once and in great detail, not as though we were walking down the street but as though we owned it in our heads.

It is the small town of our dreams. But there are no people, and looking closely, everything is closed and for sale (by "Goddard and Smith") except a couple of food and convenience stores, a pawn shop, a very downscale hotel, and some rooms that are available as artists' studios. It's a kind of skid row in Vancouver, a home away from home for artists and others, maybe for us.


End of Age
Paul Graham.
Untitled # 12 from End of an Age Series
, 1997.
C-type photograph,
69" x 52 3/4".
In Gallery 3 the dialectic of the exhibition reaches a resolution, but a resolution that contains everything that went before. Paul Graham's young woman has the clarity of a life force, yet all else is being transformed, or disappearing, or dying. Rebecca Quaytman's three screenprints on wood of trains and tracks that transported Jews to the camps invoke the sun (perhaps how it lights this emptiness) in their titles. In Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (5th Version), Paul Pfeiffer digitally manipulates an underwater Marilyn Monroe into the blue. And by this time one accepts the idea that two pears are actually a shotgun and a figure 8 (the title) in Kelly Nipper's large chromagenic print. Everything ends here, but one can always go back to the beginning.

Donald Goddard © 2001


There are also works by Efrat Shvily, Stephen Shore, Ian Kaier, Odili Donald Odita, Dan Graham, and Michael Snow, all of which are pertinent. The exhibition is beautifully curated by Carol Greene and designed by Stefano Basilico. The exhibition was shown at Greene Naftali Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001

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