Critics’ Picks

Sage Sohier, Bleaching ritual, Washington, DC, 2003, archival pigment print, 28 x 34".

New York

Sage Sohier

Foley Gallery
59 Orchard Street Ground Floor
November 29 - January 7

Sage Sohier’s “Witness to Beauty” opens with a portrait of a woman at a vanity, looking at herself in a handheld mirror. This is the artist’s mother, Wendy Morgan. She looks at herself, Sohier looks at her mother, and the viewer looks at the artist looking at her mother. There are, therefore, a series of frames—in a literal sense, too, as framed paintings, mirrors, and family photographs seem to adorn every wall in the pieces’ domestic settings. These backdrops often feel highly staged: Magazines are arranged just so on the coffee table, and the subjects’ outfits mimic those in the family portrait hanging above the couch. This emphasis on composure is not incidental; the gallery states that the impetus for this body of images was Sohier’s sense that she could never compete with her mother for looks (Morgan was a model), so the artist had to content herself with being on the other side of the camera.

As a motivation, beauty is treated lightly. Mum and Laine making me up, Washington DC, 2004, shows Sohier being gussied by her gleeful sister and mother as Sohier childishly sucks in her lips. Mum exercising in her pool, Washington, DC, 2001, captures Morgan floating nude in a swimming pool, her illuminated breasts uplifted by a neon-green noodle. Despite the levity (and occasional sappiness), there is something equally laborious, even disturbing, about this “beauty” one is made to witness. It entails bleaching rituals, cedar enzyme baths, a face-lift, and the stifling presence of flowers. Perhaps Sohier is indeed better off behind the camera.