It is hard after walking through the show not to think about how much Justine Kurland was associated with the staged photography of the Yale Girls in the 90’s. She has moved a lot artistically and much to her credit. Her last show of train hoppers and the landscapes of America were fantastic and from a detractor like myself shockingly good. It is fascinating to see her make such male-centric work. She spent many of her early years dedicated to the portraying a land where men were wiped out and women ran free as young vagabonds through an ever-expansive landscape. I am not sure I like her new pictures of cars and men working on cars, but it has stuck with me. I bought the catalogue, so I don’t dislike it, but I feel at times the work is formally a little awkward, as if Kurland isn’t yet comfortable in the confined space of working class urban locations. Her strongest formal pictures in the show come when she can get some height, and the cities unravel a little more, like the natural landscapes she has photographed up until now.
Jerry Saltz did say of Kurland, “The work is a mysterious portrait of maleness in the face of the end of an era of mechanical things.” (Vulture 9/10/14) I love Jerry, but to me, the work feels very broad, almost a comically simplistic portrayal of masculinity, which was always my issue with her pictures of young women in the landscape. Women as free spirits in the land seems as juvenile an understanding of gender as men as greasy, weathered mechanics. But I as I recall, her women were also on the greasy side, so maybe there is a little more to the work than I am giving her credit for. The show is also a wide-ranging mix of styles and subjects loosely tied to a topic, which is the style du jour these days. But it lacks both the eclecticism of Etheridge and the quality of images of Christian Patterson, and with the working class nature of the work, it is hard not to think of the more compelling Blisner, IL series by Daniel Shea. But that being said, it is hard not to like pictures of a person holding out a piece of a tooth, a child abandoned in a car seat, or the god’s eye view of two men toiling in empty parking lot on a late-model American car.
Through Oct. 11th