8 Bennet Street, London 7 March – 27 May 2017
Double Take, held at the Skarstedt Gallery in London, features ‘Picture Generation’ artists Richard Prince, Louise Lawler and Barbara Kruger, accompanied by Anne Collier, Roe Ethridge, Robert Heinecken, Collier Schorr, Steven Shearer and Hank Willis Thomas. This post intends to focus on the exhibition’s concept of appropriation, in relation to the Postmodernism era, with the purpose to expound upon whilst scrutinise the role played by the photographic medium.
With the shifts in society, politics and economy occurring in the late 1970s, Postmodern artists begun to revolutionise the conventional ideologies on the content of an artwork. By developing a tactic of selective borrowing so-called appropriation, Postmodernists turned this strategy into the very nucleus of the work. Double Take presents photographs from the 1960s to the present day, that demonstrate the power of photography as a reframing and recontextualising tool. In fact, the photographic medium intervenes as a means for pulling out images from their original context, addressing them to be replaced in a new one. This practice, results in the attribution of new meanings to the final photographs. The exhibit’s title Double Take, implies the presence of recognisable images. Their sight, immediately grasps the viewers’ attention and stimulates them to contemplate the effects of recontextualisation over themselves.
The Skarstedt Gallery is composed of three sections. The entrance overlooks the vastest area, the Bennet Street Gallery. The latter’s adjacent spaces are the Arlington Street Gallery on the left, and the St. James Gallery on the right. Due to the minimal style of the indoor architecture, there aren’t obtrusive elements to the works of art. The visitors’ experience is enhanced by the cleanliness and the adequate light settings of the space. All the photographs are lined on white walls and lack of descriptive captions. Informative leaflets are available at the counter, together with a printed advertisement of the show. Double Take opens with Heinecken’s Are you Rea, 1964-89, a series of twenty-five gelatin silver prints. Nonetheless the textual documents present Are you Rea as the starting point for Double Take, the curators’ choice in arranging the photographs doesn’t clarify that. Located in the Arlington Street Gallery, this artwork displays photograms collected from a variety of magazines. The production’s replacement with reproduction, raises an inevitable questioning of the author’s ownership. The fact that original pieces aren’t always distinguishable from their copies, causes the interrogating of the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. Since the 1960s indeed, reality and images were easily to be confused with one another. These circumstances followed an investigation on the methodologies of manipulation.
For the realisation of Are you Rea, Heinecken had cleverly exploited visual and linguistic strategies to combining images with text. The artwork considers the tactics of advertising in stereotyping our mass mediated culture. Along with Heinecken’s photogram, the Arlington Street Gallery is dominated by Prince’s, Collier’s and again Heinecken’s images. There, Kruger’s Untitled (Now You See Us Now You Don’t), 1987, triumphs for its bright colours of red and yellow. The strength of the artist’s use of image and text, pushed myself to sense the obligation to reflect on the position of women in art. Untitled (Now You See Us Now You Don’t) is a prominent shout-out to female personalities, often invisible in the artistic realms.
The St. James Gallery hosts Roe Ethridge’s Pic ’n Clip 9, 2017, and Steven Shearer’s Guys, 2005, in proximity of Richard Prince’s photographs Live Free or Die 3, 1987, and Untitled (Girlfriend), 1992. Ethridge and Shearer come from a younger generation than Prince’s, but yet share similar interests and techniques. Their designated area focuses on illustrating our digital world and mirrors a closer reality than the 1960s’. The juxtaposition of Prince’s photographs with Ethridge’s and Shearer’s collages of internet pictures, helps to emphasise how mass media still affect our digital era. In fact, Ethridge’s collections depicting objects of our mediated culture, interact with the visitors, aiming at pondering themselves on the truthful notions of photography, in contrast to its use of manipulation.
The Bennet Street Gallery’s walls opposite from the entrance, are adorned by images of women from the 1980s to the 2000s. Among those, Prince, Thomas, and Collier, portray the iconic figures of femininity. Then, across from them, Richard Prince’s series Cowboys, 1980-82, projects the postwar ideologies of masculinity. Next to it, Thomas’ photograph of a sexualised feminine body, attracts the male gaze and evokes male desires. Closer to the Arlington Gallery, two black and white portraits of women by Schorr and Collier prepare the viewer to engage with the women’s role in society, which demands attention.
The above-mentioned adjustments of the gallery space, bring me to hypothesise that the photographs’ disposition has been based on, and according to, the messages they convey. These choices in organising the frames, brought me to mature the following considerations. While the Bennet Street Gallery supposes a man as spectator, the Arlington Street Gallery presumes a woman observer. The St. James Gallery instead, welcomes visitors, whether male or female, which are part of the digital natives’ generation. Notwithstanding the cleverness of these settings, the exhibition could be very disorienting. Likely to be decision of the curators, Double Take speaks out to an audience with an overall knowledge of art rather than communicating to the mass. Afterall, it is a commercial gallery we’re talking about.
In conclusion, Double Take engages with the viewers with a significative immediacy. Given the artists’ compelling use of directness, the show raises a deliberation on the stereotyped imagery, nowadays effortlessly accessible, which shapes today’s society. These Postmodernist photographs visually debate on the reality of our world, which becomes frequently darkened by the assumptions that artworks subliminally depict. All these reason bring me to deem Double Take as stimulating for the development of oneself’s critical thinking. Definitely worthy to be experienced, if willing to rethink the originality of oneself’s ideologies.