Nina Katchadourian

Blanton Museum of Art
200 East Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
March 12, 2017–June 11, 2017

Nina Katchadourian, The Recarcassing Ceremony, 2016, single-channel video, color, sound, 24 minutes 24 seconds. Installation view.

In 2012, Nina Katchadourian’s 2011 series “Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style,” consisting of pictures styled after sober Northern Renaissance paintings and shot inside airplane bathrooms—including headdresses fashioned from toilet-seat covers—went viral. The artist’s wit and resourcefulness are clearly infectious, as confirmed by this midcareer survey comprising hundreds of photographs among other two-dimensional works, all organized by project, as well as several videos and sound pieces. “Sorted Books,” 1993–, features dozens of photographs of book spines and covers arranged to spell out phrases, such as “What Is Art? Close Observation” in What Is Art?, 1996/2008. “Seat Assignments,” 2010–, involves pictures made in-flight and often in-seat: Prince Charming, 2015, shows a curling trail of white powder (sugar?) sprinkled atop a magazine advertisement. The ethereal gesture connects the ad’s two male pilots, evoking more than collegial intimacy between the pair.

But Katchadourian, a former student of Allan Kaprow’s, is skilled at making much more than humorous connections, evidenced by two videos in the show both involving family. Accent Elimination, 2005, features the California-raised artist, her Finnish-born ethnic Swede mother, and her Turkish-born, Lebanon-raised ethnic Armenian father laboring to eliminate or acquire the inflection of their origins. Even more absorbing is the video The Recarcassing Ceremony, 2016, which tells the story of the Katchadourians through a game the artist and her brother invented while summering on a Finnish island. Through interviews, archival audiotapes, photographs, and reenactments, we learn the comic depths of their childhood endeavor, where clans were invented and embodied in Playmobile figurines who, like them, went boating, hiking, and more. Yet when the family discusses bringing lost clansman “back to life” or the filial dynamics that ended the pastime, the artist’s commitment to rigorous play reveals its roots, and very serious utility.

— Kate Green