Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sarah Anne Johnson, Wonderlust @ Julie Saul Gallery

Just listened to a discussion on the Bad at Sports podcast, where they were going on about how hard it is for Chelsea artists to change up what they do because there is an expectation from buyers and gallerists that once an artist sells, he/she will continue to produce similar sellable objects. Well, Johnson seems to have had an impressive ten-year run at Julie Saul, where she has had the freedom or bravery to subvert expectations and work through ideas in her shows. I, for one, have always fond that exploration enjoyable. Her new work is in keeping with her ongoing growth as an artist. She is still drawing on top of pictures, but she is being more aggressive than ever with it and is using it to take on the ever-tricky subject of people having sex.

As Winogrand said, “it’s hard to make a picture about a monkey and not have it be about a monkey.” Johnson’s pictures are certainly about sex, but for the first time that I can remember in photography, she deals with the subject in a way that is both sexual and relatable. Which might sound odd in describing pictures which involve a lot of drawing on top of prints, but somehow a silhouette of people kissing splattered in gold leaf seems about right for a visual description of the experience, and a body covered in a colorful installation of dots seems to be a pretty good visual representation of an orgasm. Johnson has drawn sad and happy clown faces over people’s faces, portraying sex as both inherently goofy and deviant, a representation that feels exceedingly accurate and intelligent. There is one misstep in the show, a picture that has a man’s arms photoshopped (?) around a women like a snake it is way to sentimental and seems like a dramatic step down from an otherwise excellent body of work about a challenging subject matter.

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