Critics’ Picks

Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all (detail), 2008, 3,851 vintage postcards, 11 x 10 1/2 x 47'.

New York

Zoe Leonard

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
March 2 - June 10

Part of the elegance of Zoe Leonard’s work lies in its straightforward concepts: For instance, in 1961, 2002–, one blue suitcase for each year of the artist’s life is arranged into an undulating line. Over one thousand copies of Kodak’s instructional guide to photography are stacked up by year of publication in How to Take Good Pictures, 2018. And for You see I am here after all, 2008, thousands of postcards of Niagara Falls are organized by the vantage point of the photographer. These premises entail laborious processes, and the resulting visual accumulations relish those tacky fingerprints of human production and intervention—the latter work takes its title from a message written on one of the postcards.

Many of the subjects in Leonard’s exhibition “Survey” engage specifically with social and material exchanges, or possession: images and objects for sale, museum collections, intimate connections, personal archives, absorptions of one material by another. Every element feels distinctly processed or handled, evoking other lives and histories. Leonard’s own hand is also evident throughout the show—in the hooks and eyes, zippers, sinew, and wires holding together decomposing husks of fruit in Strange Fruit (for David), 1992–97; in her reflections in the shopwindows of her Analogue suite, 1998–2009; and in the stilted handwriting on a snapshot of an imagined queer black actress (The Fae Richards Photo Archive, 1993–96).

Her hand and lens function like a finger pressed against the glass. Leonard points to the tensions of appearance and narrative, as subtle and palpable as bark pushing through a chain-link fence. Just behind the glass are those objects of desire, or desires gone by.