Critics’ Picks

Chris Marker, Untitled #104, 2011, color photograph mounted on white Sintra, 13 1/4 x 16 3/8".  From the series “PASSENGERS,” 2009–11.

Chris Marker, Untitled #104, 2011, color photograph mounted on white Sintra, 13 1/4 x 16 3/8". From the series “PASSENGERS,” 2009–11.

New York

Chris Marker

Peter Blum Gallery
176 Grand Street
November 20, 2021–January 21, 2022

Even in 2021, one hundred years after the birth of artist and cineast Chris Marker, his work continues to be pertinent and powerful. Notoriously creating a film from long takes of still pictures (La Jetée, 1962), Marker sometimes reversed that process to generate his photographic pieces—solitary frames that were originally captured as moving images. In this exhibition, many of the works have been altered digitally, which shifts them away from exactitude and clear focus, evoking the hazy realm of memory. “We do not remember; we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten,” Marker, who passed in 2012, once stated. Ever a thoughtful wordsmith, he combined text and image to potent, destabilizing effect. Yet the dearth of immediate juxtaposition with language in this presentation, simply titled “100,” does reduce somewhat a key Markerian strength.

In the series “Staring Back,” 1950–2004, he captured zoo animals, cultural luminaries, and street protestors alike. Faces contort in outburst, pitting the dark body armor of the police against the bloodied mouths and bare heads of insurgents—1967 blends into 2004, and these scenes of unrest still remain all too relevant and painfully familiar. For “Crush Art,” 2003–2008, he crumpled up pictures of women from magazines then scanned the results. With a (Sur)realist’s riposte to the glamour of the supposedly representative “models” in this work, Marker detourns spectacle, making it richer, stranger, more mysterious. “PASSENGERS,” 2009–11, his series on Paris commuters, is highlighted by Untitled #104, 2011, which features an apparitional likeness of the artist himself, mirrored in a Métro window. Embedded into the composition as a colorful wraith, Marker observes a young woman with large hoop earrings whose mouth hangs open, ever so slightly, in distracted reverie. The image is a subtle meditation on watching and being watched.

Marker once said that his lens frames “the everlasting face of solitude.” This exhibition, a mosaic of our collective alienation, still manages to offer up a bit of solace. He rarely allowed his own likeness to circulate in the mediasphere, but we can see his predilections and sympathies for the world reflected in the faces of the people and the beloved animals he chronicled.