Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stan Douglas Midcentury Studio @ David Zwirner

I’ve always found Stan Douglas a little off-putting. His films are always very enjoyable to look at, and I understand the point of the work  at least in part is to subvert any kind of easily understood narrative. It just makes the viewing experience feel confrontational at times, as if he is bludgeoning you dully with opaque meaning. If you think photography, which as a medium expects much less in the way of a narrative than film, might make Douglas’ work a more enjoyable viewing experience, you would be wrong. The pictures operate just like the films. They all contain a titillation of meaning, just enough so you can’t help but try to tease out some kind of satisfactory narrative to go with the otherwise engaging visual.

What is even more problematic is the images are set in the post war 1940’s, a time when the photograph was the prominent medium of information. That is an era that can’t escape being associated with film noir and lurid detective novels, and as a result, it is a period that is often revisited visually in movies, TV and art to the point of fetishization. You could easily find the work down right cliché, if the pictures Douglas chooses to salivate over weren’t so wonderfully rendered, like a fight in the stands at a hockey game, or a middle-aged woman in a gown juggling knives, or the broad-shouldered man on a stool.

Even more interesting is the catalogue with vernacular photography from the period, which served as source material for the work and which Douglas often painstakingly recreates in the show. This brings together in the most unexpected way the world of lavish setup photography of the 90’s and the academic self-propagating vernacular images as art of the last decade or so.

Through April 23rd


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