Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th Street
January 16 - March 8
In 1966, Marie Cosindas became the first artist who worked exclusively with color photography to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art—it was also her first-ever exhibition. The forty four-by-five-inch Polaroid prints displayed then and on view here look less like photographs than miniature seventeenth-century Baroque still-life paintings. Each features dense arrangements of food piled in abundant arrays in gleaming ornate bowls, which rest on heavily patterned tablecloths next to glassware that is barely visible, save for highlights on rim and chalice and stem—all suffused with an amber glow against a background of shadows.
Also on view are a number of similarly baroque photographs that have never been seen before as well as portraits of people who appear painted into their surroundings. Most remarkable is the quality of light and color that Cosindas achieved with filters and temperature manipulation. In Floral with Peter’s Brass Vase, Boston, 1965, the nearly black background is warm umber; highlights suggest the vase more than describe it. The effect simultaneously flattens the composition and creates extraordinary depth and gradation of color.
It’s notable that in 1962 the Polaroid Corporation asked Cosindas to test their new Polacolor sheet film. That request and her exhibition at MoMA are remarkable benchmarks for any photographer, let alone a female practitioner. Since the 1980s she has fallen from public view: Her brand of pictorialism—with its references to bygone styles of European painting—waned with the rise of the Pictures generation and then digital photography. It makes sense that her work is being revisited: Cosindas’s interest in the physical capacities of the photographic machine is shared by a number of younger artists—Talia Chetrit, Walead Beshty, and Michele Abeles, among others—who are less interested in the medium’s social function than in its technical possibilities.