Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Ruth Beraha: We will name her Tempest,” 2022.

    View of “Ruth Beraha: We will name her Tempest,” 2022.

    Venice

    Ruth Beraha

    AplusA
    Calle Malipiero San Marco 3073
    April 6–July 16, 2022

    An elegant iron architectural framework carves out a domelike space within the entry room of Ruth Beraha’s solo show “We will name her Tempest.” Inside it, an armature of four megaphones hangs low, like a chandelier in a mosque. “Are you looking at me?” a somber voice repeats from the speakers. The query is occasionally interspersed by the hiss of another phrase, this time in French: “Il me fout le mauvais eoil” (You have put a curse on me). Like a thrown stone sending ripples through a pond, the installation R.U.? (self-portrait) (all works 2022) leaves the viewers with a vague sense of paranoia that continues to spread as one delves further into the exhibition. On the upper floor, the installation Anthema centers on an iron sculpture evocative of a minimalist pulpit. Surrounding it is a set of standing speakers that blast a recording of a male choir performing a song whose lyrics question our faith in representation: “Se non vedo non credo/ l’immagine è un inganno” (I’ll believe it when I see it / The image is a lie.)

    Within this mystical environment, an untitled trio of alabaster forms offers a vision of the future, starting with a pure white egg balanced on a stiltlike iron pedestal. A second egg bulges slightly outward at either side, while the delicate silhouettes of four pregnant women protrude at even intervals from the third egg’s surface. Though the soft shapes dangle the promise of regeneration, the progression also has the menacing air of what Jude Ellison S. Doyle called the “monstrous feminine.” But here we shall call it Tempest.

    Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

     

  • Sabine Weiss, Porte de Saint-Cloud, Parigi, Francia, 1950, black-and-white photograph.

    Sabine Weiss, Porte de Saint-Cloud, Parigi, Francia, 1950, black-and-white photograph.

    Venice

    Sabine Weiss

    Casa dei Tre Oci
    Giudecca 43
    March 11–October 23, 2022

    When she died this past December at ninety-seven, Sabine Weiss was hailed as the last of the humanists. She also remains among the least well-known, despite a long and varied career. The French-Swiss photographer got her start as an apprentice to Willy Maywald in Paris, and, after signing with the Rapho agency in 1952, shot editorial and advertising for magazines like Vogue, Holiday, and Life. After the workday, Weiss wandered the rundown postwar streets, photographing the people she encountered (three such photos were included in 1955’s “Family of Man”). By the 1970s, she could afford to devote herself more fully to her own artistic practice, traveling extensively in Europe, Egypt, India, and further afield.

    Weiss’s work displays an aesthetic refinement that reflects her grounding not, like the other humanists, in the male-dominated field of photojournalism, but rather in fashion and advertising, areas long overlooked by museums. In this show, some two-hundred compositions let us see how Weiss’s street photography is a grittier mirror image of her commercial work, the “real” version of the ideal subjects she mythologized while on assignment: instead of giggling babies (a specialty), Spanish street urchins; instead of beautified models, dancing Roma girls. Her style is marked less by the “poetry of the instant” insisted on by the show’s title and more by a kind of painterly composition that recalls Walker Evans, André Kertész, and even the hazy elegance of Brassaï. Suspicions of voyeurism—perhaps an inevitability when poverty, urban childhood, ugliness, and isolation are your themes—fall away when considering the subversive dignity of Weiss’s unfailingly beautiful images. Her 1952 sequence of photographs of elderly “aliénées” (mentally ill women), for example, are of a piece with her famous portraits of Giacometti and Françoise Sagan. We always feel the capacious humanity not only of the people in the pictures, but also of the person behind the lens.