Critics’ Picks

Kathryn Parker Almanas, Blueberry Danish, 2006, color photograph, 11 x 14”.

Kathryn Parker Almanas, Blueberry Danish, 2006, color photograph, 11 x 14”.

New York


Alice Austen House
2 Hylan Boulevard
July 1–September 5, 2010

The word house conjures grim associations these days. The recent collision of the invisible hand of the market with fantasies of domesticity forms a subtle undercurrent for this group show of American photographers who mine the familiar allegiance between the camera and familial environments. Installed in the stately Victorian mansion where the nineteenth-century photographer Alice Austen lived and worked (until it was repossessed after the crash of 1929), “Housed” scrutinizes the idea of home in the age of foreclosure.

The overall mood hovers around deadpan detachment. Kathryn Parker Almanas goes so far as to prepare a fast food Blueberry Danish, 2006, for laboratory analysis, exposing a daily breakfast ritual as a medical mystery. More ominous is the banality of David Deutsch’s Pink House, 2002, an aerial view of suburban homes that will seem oddly familiar if you have ever looked at the world as surveilled by Google Earth. But romantic sentiment also creeps in: There is a sublime euphoria in Peter Garfield’s Harsh Realty III, 2000, a grainy black-and-white enlargement of a model suburban abode exploding in a cloud of bathtubs, windows, and walls. Juxtaposed with a view into Austen’s well-appointed dining room and her own images of domestic bliss, Catherine Opie’s iconic Self-Portrait/Cutting, 1993, carves out an intimate and affective substrate in the palpable ideological operations at work in a “home.”

Although there are plenty of reasons to be cynical about the state of the American dream, the show ultimately favors photography’s irrational operations over documentary realism. Christopher Miner’s video The Best Decision Ever Made, 2004, plays on an old TV tucked away in a cupboard like a dirty secret or a set of plates. The artist’s plaintive confession of professional and financial failures layered over a slow montage of the comfortably worn interior of a house about to be sold elicits a type of embarrassment that also feels profoundly normal.