Critics’ Picks

Shannon Ebner, Notebook Pages, 2009, ten C-prints, each 13 x 10 1/4".

Shannon Ebner, Notebook Pages, 2009, ten C-prints, each 13 x 10 1/4".

New York

“Vision is elastic. Thought is elastic.”

Murray Guy
453 West 17th Street
April 21–June 18, 2011

Some months ago, a New York Times article about interior decorators stocking clients’ libraries proclaimed that “the printed, bound book has been given a stay of execution by an unlikely source: the design community.” The newspaper ran a photo of a designer posing against leatherbound tomes, which bears a striking resemblance to one of the works in this thoughtful exhibition of photographic encounters between image and text: Joy Episalla’s 5 Women. Freud’s bookcase. London., 2011, shows a shelf, presumably once belonging to the father of psychoanalysis, holding an orderly array of volumes and intermittent portraits of women.

Zoe Leonard and Moyra Davey—who curated this show in conjunction with the release of the latest issue of Blind Spot magazine, which they edited—have previously used their own artistic practices to focus in on the physical emanations of symbolic systems whose relationships to value are drastically transforming: See the practically worthless pennies of Davey’s “Copperheads” series, 1990, and the near-obsolescent markets of Leonard’s “Analogue,” 1998–2007. In a similar vein, the works presented here, made by fourteen artists between 1967 and the present, can be seen as collectively commenting on the alleged death of print and its material persistence.

The inclusion of three artists lost to the AIDS epidemic—chaotically punk and gloriously gossipy Mark Morrisroe zines from the 1970s; a comic tableau dormant by William Gedney; David Wojnarowicz’s visceral elegy superimposed on a grotto of skeletons—sharpens the valence of loss and memory. Yet several fleshily textured images of books and pages (by Katherine Hubbard and James Welling), and a set of sculptural constructions by Pradeep Dalal, insist on an ongoing carnality of textual media; meanwhile, throughout the show, double exposures and images of writing bleeding through from pages’ reverses hint at ghostly afterlives. As a further counterpoint to loss as well as to Freud’s tidy library, Babette Mangolte’s photograph of Annette Michelson’s bookshelves offers a vibrant, overflowing grid of untameable books; its logorrheic cacophony converses with Shannon Ebner’s stunning Notebook Pages, 2009, a Cagean set of ten C-prints depicting something at once deeply familiar and keenly distant: a blank sheet of three-hole loose-leaf paper. Each of the ten exposures gets progressively darker until, at last, the margin’s trinity of holes burn like suns in the shadowed page.