Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sarah Anne Johnson, Arctic Wonderland @ Julie Saul Gallery

Just when I had all but given up on the Julie Saul Gallery’s ability to stop its slow slide into the land of 57th St. photography galleries for old people. The gallery is living on the edge, always one show of that Cathyesque New Yorker cartoonist from becoming Bonni Benrubi gallery. But then along comes another Sarah Anne Johnson show, and a new day has dawned at Julie Saul, and if the Jeff Whetstone picture at AIPAD is any indication of the quality of his upcoming exhibition, the gallery might just have a shot at relevance.

Sarah Anne Johnson’s new images expand on the painting-on-top-of-photograph technique that appeared in her last show Julie Saul show House on Fire. For the first time in Johnson’s work, the show feels refined, almost sparse. Gone are the sculptures, installations and salon hanging just paint on photographs. Her last show hit an almost perfect pitch between throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and an adventurous experimenting that revealed her diverse skills. The current work is less resolved, as if waiting for the rest of the show to arrive and flesh out a clearer emotional tone or narrative thread. The large black cubes painted into the arctic landscape create an amazing spectacle executed with such skill that the painted cube becomes part of the photograph, an unexplained, intrusive, menacing object. The same can be said for the dirty, smudged fireworks hovering above an icy coast which become an ephemeral embodiment of failure. 

All that being said, I have a hard time understanding the human pyramid of happy north-faced young people decorated with painted-on confetti, or the pipeline of painted-on confetti, or the exuberant person with a painted-on scarf jumping. In each, the tone of the work becomes oddly bright and somehow the painted image becomes looser. Instead of fading into the images, it just sits there as an inexplicable addition to the photograph. 

Through April 9th


Post a Comment