Critics’ Picks

Polixeni Papapetrou, The Ambassadors, 2009, color photograph, 41 x 41”. From the series “Between Worlds,” 2009.


Polixeni Papapetrou

56, rue Charlot
May 6–June 26, 2010

Under pressure both from a media scandal over previous work featuring her daughter and from a growing legal reluctance worldwide to allow photos of children to be displayed in public, photographer Polixeni Papapetrou has found a new way to seek out strangeness and malevolence at the edge of nostalgic childhood innocence. Her latest exhibition, “Between Worlds,” presents a series of large-scale theatrical tableaux wherein figures—children or young adults of indeterminate sex—pose as characters masked in large animal heads and wearing quaint costumes. They appear to be playing out archetypes or symbolic encounters, set against ravishing, colorful backdrops: Australian landscapes that vary from rocky coastline and wooded hills to brushlands and desert.

Papapetrou’s early work maintained a nearly stifling fidelity to its sources—particularly true in her restaging of the famous Victorian photography of young children by Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Her latest output develops the mysterious narratives found in her previous series, such as “Haunted Country,” 2006, and “Games of Consequences,” 2008. The intellectually rich compositions in her new works invite stories to be told—perhaps bedside tales that may or may not presage sweet dreams.

Papapetrou’s works have become more compelling as their visual references have become less explicit. Yet, as always, her photographs manifest technical perfection: They are choreographed, lit, and composed to the tiniest detail, and they eschew any subsequent digital manipulation. This methodology, too, links her work back to its Victorian sources: Their childlike but disturbing artificiality positions them in the lineage of Lewis Carroll even more effectively than her more obvious past tributes.