Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eva O’Leary, Spitting Image @ Crush Curatorial

It seemed a good indicator of O’Leary’s subject matter that the first picture in the show is of a young woman whose face is painted with an image of her profile facing in the other direction. A commentary on the state of young women in our much-heralded age of abundant imagery that no doubt doubles down on the pressure young woman (and everyone else) have felt for generations to live up to the standards of beauty in popular culture.  And pairing the picture with a barrage of looping selfies projecting at rapid fire with the flash blowing up in the center of the frame seems to encapsulate a fair critique of the current social media landscape.

After that, the show gets into more interesting, or trickier ground, there is a series of video portraits of young women reacting to their own reflections in a two-way mirror. Watching this array at a crowded opening without the benefit of having read the press release, the work looked like video portraits, in which the subject matter didn’t strike me as any more comfortable than most people feel in front of the camera, especially at that age. The concept is wonderful, and I am sure a longer, more thorough viewing might prompt compelling insights, but my first pass was that the video was okay but not amazing. This was followed by a room of headshots of young women against a strikingly bright blue background that looks like it would be used for some digital process to place an unrelated backdrop behind their heads. The images are visually stunning and certainly suggest a universal, almost sociological connotation, on the portraits but the women’s expressions are elusive and, in my memory, start to bleed together.

O’Leary is coming off a body of just stunningly well-made pictures that take on a lot of the telling little moments that tend to make up life. Spitting Image is clearly a step in a different direction. The work is more conceptually focused, and the content and point of view is more pronounced. But there is something a little tamped down visually about the new images in relationship to the earlier photographs. In the striped-down work, it seems that O’Leary is taking a conscious artistic risk, and one worth taking. I am not sure I am completely in love with the new work, but I am certainly excited to see where it is going.

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