April 4 – May 10, 2008
An endless propensity for quotation is endemic to photography. Such potential can be crippling for an artist, ever aware of the politics of “referring to.” With Disavowal, photographer Mark Wyse uses appropriation and curatorial strategies to express his own conflicted relationship to the burden of art history. Primarily photographic images by contemporary and historical artists—excised and reproduced from Wyse’s personal library—are hung in tight groupings of one, two, or three images throughout the gallery. Wyse acknowledges that he set out to curate an exhibition, but instead took up the mantle of artist-producer. Yet the press release includes what appears to be a list of artists in the exhibition, and proposes relationships between them, for instance: Roe Ethridge / Edward Weston and Martha Rosler / Jan Groover.”Rather than an artist roster, this is better understood as a checklist, suggesting the images on display be considered as discrete objects (authored by Mark Wyse) as well as curatorial propositions among existing works of art.
Amusing juxtapositions occur throughout. Christopher Williams’s photograph of artificial corn below a Kodak three-point reflection guide appears alongside a self-portrait of Nan Goldin with plum-hued black eye. The primacy of color in each image humorously levels the differences in photographic registers. Elsewhere a Roger Fenton photograph of a waterfall is paired with documentation of Charles Ray’s Plank Piece I, in which the artist’s body is pinned against the wall by a leaning board. Made over 100 years apart, they share the timeless awe of humanity beholden to gravity.
Wyse’s work has frequently mined the aesthetic histories within which it functions, and Disavowal portrays an artist grappling with historical precedence. But what might otherwise seem an undergraduate exercise is elevated to a generative process in the alchemy of unexpected collisions. This recombinant mode has a strong parallel in web activity, whether it is traditional bloggers or more recently advocates of Tumblr, collecting disparate JPEGs across the Internet. To mention this proliferation of images and what that means for the contemporary photographer is not incidental. In an amusing essay distributed at the gallery during the course of the exhibition, Wyse aligns the photographer with the neurotic; tellingly, the title of the essay is “Too Drunk to Fuck (On the Anxiety of Photography).” Seen here, the anxiety of the neurotic is ultimately productive.