Zoe Leonard’s “Analogue” Encompasses History Over Time through 412 Photos at the MoMA

I had high hopes for “Analogue”, Zoe Leonard’s 10-year plus project now on view at The Museum of Modern Art. All artists of my generation, including myself, are affected by and respond differently to this overwhelming datascape we have at our disposal. Leonard’s approach is archival though not nostalgic and without a directive moral. She begins her investigation, over ten years ago, in her quotidian surroundings and traces them to where they reach beyond her immediate environs. The data is presented in the form of photographs that record either a storefront that used to exist in her Lower East Side neighborhood or a market place, somewhere far away, where the goods from the former store have been relocated for sale. Leonard archives and collects data, which gathers critical distance and mass over the time. The work brings to mind Berndt and Hilla Becher’s work, both in its documentary form and its focus on the architecture of the place, and format, square photographs arranged in grids.

Zoe Leonard Install MoMA

Installation shot of Zoe Leonard “Analogue” exhibition at MoMA. Photo credit: Katherine Keltner.

The show, installed in MoMA’s atrium, is comprised of 412 photos, each square in format and held with clean L clips, arranged in various square or rectangular grids, like chapters, forming a non-regular but clean looking order. The differences in sizes of grids, rows and columns allows for fluidity and visual variation, while the uniform spacing between individual images maintains visual rigor. MoMA’s atrium is a space that has so much flux going on it can be hard for artworks to hold focus. The installation itself, the curatorial work of Roxana Marcoci and her photography department in collaboration with the artist, is beautiful; it is pared down but not too spare, and it makes a powerful impression. Both the installation and the work are strong, disciplined and serious, the installation in service to the work, demanding respect. My only complaint in viewing the pieces is that there is glare on some of the photos, making it hard to examine the works individually – too bad because the individual elements in the photos are a crucial layer of the work and the project’s attempt to follow the pieces globally.

Zoe Leonard Install 2 MoMA

Installation shot of Zoe Leonard “Analogue” exhibition at MoMA. Photo credit: Katherine Keltner.

The work itself begins by tracking a largely gone, fabric-based sales area of the Lower East Side, Leonard’s own neighborhood and path of daily routine. Having lived and worked in the East Village and Lower East Side for a long time, the photographs were of interest to me in part because I wanted to identify the former locations. But they hold interest beyond my own curiosity. They are straight-on, honest and plain images, documentary in form, owing to Walker Evans’ legacy among others, that allow the viewer to sample the data on view without bias of unusual camera angle or sentiment (aside from some nostalgia that cannot help but be perceived as with anything lost or bygone). The images of these storefronts and their consistency of view is exacting as they document no longer existing specimens from the Lower East Side.

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Graham Electronics, 2006/2006

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Shirtrack

The work continues past the storefronts to track the goods once sold inside the Lower East Side establishments and now part of a global storefront. While I appreciate the conceptual tracking of goods, the artist’s investigation, and her desire to trace our globally fragmented world in which goods are endlessly moved about, the work loses some of its rigor when it tries to take on the varying architectures of the myriad places where the goods have travelled to. I wish she had applied a colder, tighter and more architecturally focused frame to the marketplaces as she did to the storefronts. The images of the storefronts are consistently framed, giving equal value to each, and no preference of a deli over a fabric store for example. However, once Leonard follows the goods from these storefronts, the frame is, inevitably lost, as markets and shipping yards cannot necessarily be captured from equal distances, angles, lines of entry. As a result, the roughly second half of the show holds less power than the first half. I wish the artist could have maintained a similar meticulousness to the framing of the marketplaces, whether shooting individual stalls within a larger market or some other constraint that allowed these images to be more formally consistent. Much of the appeal of the storefronts is their laboratory-like examination. Once the documentation leaves the Lower East Side, so too does the feeling of examining specimens or data.

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Shirtrack

Zoe Leonard Photos

TV Wheelbarrow, 2001/2006

Some of this may have to do with editing. Leonard’s photos number somewhere beyond 10,000. The task of editing this to 412 is immense – just the ability to layout the images to view at once – affects how the viewer interprets it. Still, there is a responsibility for the artist or the curator/exhibitor to deal with the plethora of visual data, especially in our contemporary visual culture of image saturation. The selection process and what is selected becomes a major part of the artwork. The conceptual strength of the project carries through, and the idea that Leonard followed her initial storefront photographs across the world as a means of tracking gentrification and globalization is valid and more than worthy of pause. But, I cannot help feeling that the work takes on a nostalgia or a potential bias that detracts from the message of global goods, once the persistent frame is lost.

Zoe Leonard: Analogue

On view at the Museum of Modern Art June 25–August 30, 2015

Written by Katherine Keltner, Contributing Writer to POVarts

Jordan Doner Blows Up Luxury at Serge Sorokko Gallery

Jordan Doner photograph

Jordan Doner Revolution in Luxury

Jordan Doner’s debut solo show at Serge Sorokko Gallery called A Revolution in Luxury, is part of the artist’s ongoing series about fashion, consumption, and vague concepts of utopia. New York photographer Jordan Doner takes (supposedly) limited edition Louis Vuitton luxury handbags by Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince, fills them with explosives, and then documents the moment when the explosion occurs. The site-specific installation features large-scale color photographs, photo-etched metal plates, sculptures, walls of hung parachute material and video works.

According to Doner, the idea for the series came from researching mid-century utopianism. His research pointed him to Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. Doner was captivated and inspired by the final scene of the film, where in a tremendous explosion, a home with designer goods and space-age food, are all blown apart in beautiful slow motion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ResQFDDsDAI

By borrowing from the film’s critique of a consumerist utopia and the ‘blow-things-up’ technique, Doner took limited artist-edition Louis Vuitton handbags and detonating them in Upstate, New York. The photos and the harvested debris from these explosions were first exhibited the end of 2009.

Jordan Doner

Jordan Doner at Serge Soroko Gallery

This new series on display at Serge Sorokko Gallery, expands on those original explosions by packing the bags are with luxury ‘shrapnel’, as Doner calls it all – luxury watches, sparking jewelry, lipstick, stiletto heels, rhinestone encrusted cuffs, and silicone breast implants.

First, here are my doubts. At the prices that the bags go for, around $2500 – what if the bags are fakes? What if Doner’s critique is in fact a postured critique using fake bags? NYC, the artist’s hometown is known as a source for fake luxury bags in Chinatown. In which case, Doner’s desire to blow up the utopian consumerist ideals by blowing up symbolic representations of that ideal, in fact achieves only the opposite by blowing up fake luxury handbags. Because of the status of the bags within the context of this show is so paramount, I was hoping to see the actual tags and receipts somehow presented to verify the theoretical position of the explosion.

Secondly, there’s the question of the source material reference, and the artist’s dialogue with the work of Antonioni. Doner’s work should be seen as a cover version of the Antonioni, instead of an iteration of the idea, which would make the discussion much more interesting. If Doner’s work celebrates the blowing up, by replicating the explosion, with luxury goods or with other status signs, the homage becomes an action in support. The blow up then serves as an anti-consumerist utopian exercise.

Also in this series, Doner explores several contemporary artists in his Antonionian utopian critique of luxury arts by exploding scale replicas of Donald Judd’s volumetric “boxes” and an Equilibrium Tank sculpture by Jeff Koons – (that must be fakes). The gallery proclaims that the “debris from the destruction will be displayed alongside the resulting artworks in a near-forensic manner.” While I certainly take issue with the idea that the artworks are displayed in a near-forensic manner, once I understand the idea of the fake art work being part of the anti-consumerist exercise, by including a critique of contemporary art consumption, with the choice of the artists that he selects, the work really seems to start to take shape.

Doner Parachute copy

Lastly, the space is swaddled in backlit parachutes that are reflected and refracted with mirrors and photographed. With this, the artist crafts wall sculptures, mixing actual parachutes with his photographs of ones to create his own personal “utopias” in an attempt to fade the distinctions between the projected materialistic fantasies of a luxury class and everyday reality. In this way, according to Doner, the entombing of the gallery in white military parachutes blurs the representation and physicality of the artist’s utopian critique evident in the photos and videos.

Jordan Doner parachutes

Jordan Doner parachutes

With this I disagree. The images of the parachutes are beautiful, though they don’t really work in the ‘blow-up’ critique, nor do they suggest a new utopian path – and if they are meant to, that path is completely obscured. But the photographs are stunning regardless of the ‘new path’ suggestion.

The photographs and the videos are great. They are mostly pictures of things blowing up and that’s almost always pretty cool, and the parachute pictures are pretty.

And yes, as an Antonioni exercise, storied within a critique of class, consumption, luxury and fashion, it’s a great success. Though having been photographed by a fashion photographer, and on display along one of the toniest shopping streets in San Francisco, across from the Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen and Agent Provocateur store, where bras sell for $800, it’s also deeply and likely unintentionally ironic as well.

Jordan Doner window

Jordan Doner window

One must only wonder how Doner decided to price his artwork. Did he price them as surrogate luxury goods, critiquing the consumption of luxury goods?

Jordan Doner

Jordan Doner

With that last question everything becomes so meta that viewers heads are ready to explode, with the anti-utopian critique coming full circle back to the viewer.

The show marks Doner’s first exhibition in San Francisco.

Serge Sorokko Gallery 55 Geary Street San Francisco CA 94108 (415) 421.7770 http://www.sorokko.com

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank