Clegg & Guttmann
McDermott & McGough
The exhibition 'Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition' looks at artists'work with carefully composed photographic images. Mark Bradford presents 'Scorched Earth' a suite of new paintings, a multimedia installation, and a major painting.
Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition
curated by Russell Ferguson and Emily Gonzalez-Jarrett
When we say of a portrait that it is a perfect likeness, we mean not just that it accurately delineates its subject. There is a further implication that the image penetrates beyond surface appearance to give us some deeper sense of the person depicted. The same logic can be applied more broadly. There was a time when it seemed a plausible goal for the artist to resolve a picture so conclusively that the result of his or her work would potentially transcend simple representation to reveal the essence of the subject. Today such a project might seem naïve. We are glutted with images. What single picture might separate itself from this flood? Any such attempt to make such a work will lead inevitably to the question of composition. This issue is perhaps most urgent for artists working in in photography, a medium that now pervades every corner of daily life. The exhibition Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition looks at artists’ work with carefully composed photographic images.
For most of its history, art photography has linked itself with the contingent, the found situation, the apparently accidental arrangement. Since the decline of the movement known as Pictorialism in the 1920s there has been consistent suspicion among serious photographers of images that are too beautiful, too “photogenic,” too well composed—too perfect. Photographers from Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand to Daido Moriyama and Bernd and Hilla Becher were all resistant in different ways to the conventional idea of good composition. They introduced a variety of strategies to counteract it. At all costs it was necessary to avoid the picturesque. An overly composed image smacked of the commercial or the kitsch. Since the late 1970s, however, a number of photographers have been engaged with a renewed investigation of composition and thus, inevitably, with the historically devalued concept of the pictorial. These include Thomas Demand, Stan Douglas, Roe Ethridge, Andreas Gursky, Annette Kelm, Elad Lassry, Florian Maier-Aichen, Barbara Probst, Jeff Wall, and Christopher Williams, among others.
Such images can sometimes be in conflict with the traditional mandate of photography to present an unmediated representation of the world as the photographer finds it. New technologies have made photography almost infinitely amenable to whatever alterations and refinements the artist sees fit to make.
Since—except in the work of the small number of artists working with abstraction—photography remains inextricably linked to representation, it remains to choose the subject. One of the strategies used by artists in the exhibition is a self-conscious engagement with the past, and with forms of imagery that evoke period styles. As with the use of Photoshop and similar programs, this historicizing approach runs counter to the mainstream of photography, which has always put a great emphasis on the representation of the world as it is now, right in front of the photographer’s lens. The Vancouver artists Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, and Rodney Graham have all made works set in the past, a strategy that would have seemed like the breaking of an absolute taboo for most of the twentieth century. Concomitantly, the refusal of a mise-en-scène taken directly from the world as it is puts a special onus on the artists to take responsibility for every detail of their composition. Nothing can simply be taken as found.
For Thomas Demand, the search for complete control over his images has led him to construct in three dimensions exactly what he wants in his photograph, omitting any extraneous details. This technique gives his work an eerie quality. It is clearly a photograph, and we can recognize the subject, but in the end we are seeing the Platonic essence of, say, a diving board as much as any specific board.
The exhibition will not neglect portraiture itself. Thomas Ruff’s iconic 1980s portraits of his friends and colleagues draw on a long tradition in photography, yet they push that tradition to new levels. In this case, enormous, almost clinical specificity is combined with a timeless immediacy. His subjects are both totally present and yet somehow also on distant from the viewer, perhaps beyond our reach altogether.
But the same approach can be taken too with the objects of everyday life. Annette Kelm’s photographs might show a single object—an acorn, for example—yet they share with Ruff’s portraits an obsessive search for the distilled version of whatever they represent. More broadly, all of nature can be treated in this way, as a subject for a picture as much as a tranche of untamed landscape.
In the end, all the artists featured in the exhibition accept full responsibility for every detail of their images, offering a powerful alternative to the dominant photographic tradition of the compelling picture that is somehow found by chance.
Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition is organized by Russell Ferguson, professor in the Department of Art, University of California, Los Angeles and adjunct curator at the Hammer Museum. The curatorial associate for the exhibition is Emily Gonzalez-Jarrett.
Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth
curated by Connie Butler and Jamillah James
Comprising a suite of new paintings, a multimedia installation, and a major painting on the Lobby Wall, this new body of work by the Los Angeles–based artist Mark Bradford refers to formative moments in his life and ruminations on the body in crisis. As an artist who has long been interested in strategies of mapping and the psychogeography of the city he calls home, Bradford uses his characteristic painting style to excavate the terrain— emotional, political and actual—that he inhabits. Examining the moment and afterlife of the 1992 uprisings in Los Angeles, which he experienced from his studio in Leimert Park, Bradford has translated the outrage and lasting wounds of the riots into these new paintings. Scorched Earth is Bradford’s first solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles.
The multimedia installation Spiderman (2015) incorporates tropes of Black American stand-up comedy, inspired in part by Eddie Murphy’s searing commentary on sexuality in his controversial 1983 concert film Delirious. The Lobby Wall features a map of HIV diagnoses in the United States as of 2009. The work was created using Bradford’s signature process of excavating through layers of paint and drywall and topography. Bradford’s early identification as an artist emerging in the mid-1980s was informed by queer and feminist politics during the developing AIDS crisis. With these works, he explodes the deep cultural fears and misrepresentations that misconceive of black identity and gender as one-dimensional, providing a trenchant critique of pervasive cultural racism and homophobia in society as a whole.
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Opening Jun 20 11AM Tuesday Admission is Free
10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday - Friday 11AM—8PM
Saturday and Sunday 11AM—5PM