I get many art related email’s, announcing shows and art world events, etc. Sometimes there is a wonderful nugget to discover, or in the case of Humble Arts Group shows, usually just nice to see your peers work. But sometimes I actually read the gallery write-ups for shows and just wonder, huh? I often think if I were better at writing art-speak, I would be able to package my project as a super-conceptual take on painting, which seems to be the most popular thing right now. But I am just not that kind of person or artist. My photogrpahy is actually very much influenced by other artist’s and has great deal of conceptual thinking, but frankly I don’t think it is necessary to include all of that in my artist’s statement. I could be wrong, but I don’t think your work becomes complicated if you try to make it complicated with fancy words. If it’s in the images, its there, you should not have to add it after the fact. But of course the art world is very much about this sometimes. But for me, I want to go into a gallery and experience the art by LOOKING at it, not reading the little piece of paper at the door. If I like work, of course I am always interested to read the artist’s statement, but if I need to read it in order to understand what’s I am seeing, than it is a problem. There are shows, where after reading the statement, your experience or understanding is taken to a new level, but the best work often gets it’s conceptual punch from things that happen after it’s made. Every time I see August Sander’s portraits, I am taken in. On their own, you are drawn in to the way he captures the personality of each person, and they are so simple and beautiful. Then I start to think that these are the people, who some 30 years later, either stood by and did nothing, were killed, or participated in the Holocaust. How could any group of portraits ever say as much.

Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency is another example of work which operates like this . Those images are one of the most searing portraits of the dark side of human impulse and emotion ever made. They reflect her courage to reveal what was ugly inside of her and her friends. But the frailty and emotion in the images, which exists in all of us, even if our lives are very different, means that even if we know nothing about those images, we react. Of course most people, myself included, hate them on their first viewing, and gradually grow to see their beauty. And one only needs to turn on VH-1 to see the legacy of her work. Most young people probably have no idea, that exposing your body, sex life, drug, mommy/daddy problems or self hatred used to be a big no-no in American society. I am too young to know, but I imagine Nan’s pictures were incredibly shocking to mainstream America of her time. Now they are more tame than American Apparel ads.

Then there is Sally Mann. Her work is deeply process driven, and has been for a long time. But it’s the personal subject matter that people react to and that has made her famous.

But when I read stuff like this and then look at the images I am left feeling slightly sad about art photography.

Manuela-Marques, Untitled, 2007

Caroline Pagès Gallery
Lisbon
Manuela Marques :
Still Nox
17 Jan – 1 Mar 2008
Still Nox is the first gallery exhibition in Portugal for Paris-based Portuguese artist Manuela Marques. The large-scale photographs on show are part of a study process on contemporary reality and the clear proliferation of states of fragmentation. The captured images are ones of expectation and encourage a questioning from the viewer, an active and reflexive posture, because there is no clear revelation of objectives, but rather the apprehension of yet-to-be disclosed moments, of intervals. These are images that are based on their own ambiguity that suspend them in less perceptible time and space, where the difficulty in finding affinities and relationships beyond that moment in focus becomes evident. At the same time, these photographs possess the recognition of images and the interaction between them within a field of imagination common to the observer, which leaves the discursive possibilities about these images wide open. These are not photographs within the ambit of the instant, although they may reveal, by chance, certain casual condiments; they are, however, something that springs from a pretension and foresight that the artist defines for her work and that the considered overall static nature of the movements consolidates.
There is a distinct perceptive individuality in relation to what is photographed in the works of Manuela Marques. There is a sensation of a voluntary isolation in the choice of images that distinguishes the work and gives it a specific approach, extracting the maximum expression from a simple gesture. As such, the intimate nature of the images enters in full consonance, from capture to reception, while not avoiding the intrinsic tensions demonstrated to be an object of encouragement. What is more important than the material itself is examining how things and bodies of energy thrive on emotions and feelings and how they are dependent on them. The continuous exploitation of conciliatory elements as the permanence of a surrounding silence and the question of the light almost always applied in one register, one moment shadow the next naked brilliance, have also been an important mark that has distinguished her work.

Maybe it’s me, but when I looked at the images, I saw nothing from this statement. I do not mean to diminish her work, she has some very good images, but as a body of work about the above, huh?

I went to a show last night at Roebling Hall, which features a group of photographs by Rebecca Horne, which is a nice meditation on still-life painting but using items associated with the feminine. The show also included some amazing painting by Ray Smith. I can’t remember that last time I went into a gallery and thought wow, if I had some money I would buy one of these. Smith’s large scale painting’s on old door’s and plywood, mix drawing, stains, and house paint to fantastic results. The work had a really smart combination of art history, pop culture and exploration of materials, but all of that was secondary to how really appealing the paintings were. I find that a lot more exciting than looking at something that is trying too hard.

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Ray Smith

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