Critics’ Picks

Willa Nasatir, Conductor, 2017, C-print mounted on wood, 75 x 61".

New York

Willa Nasatir

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
July 14 - October 1

Willa Nasatir’s photographs of her provisional and precarious studio assemblages reveal the artist’s ruminative tinkering—but the use of dramatic lighting demonstrates a tight control over her environment. Nasatir’s images are populated by the materials that frequently accompany artmaking, including hammers, stands, and brooms. And the interiority of these photos, whose configurations are distorted to the edge of recognition by her interventions, crucially echoes the personal nature of the studio itself.

The artist’s high-contrast, theatrically lit work is visibly indebted to the eerily intimate 1980s tableaux of photographers such as Barbara Kasten, Laurie Simmons, Vikky Alexander, and Ellen Brooks. Unlike these artists, however, Nasatir insists on analog manipulations, via mirrors and clear latex screens, which register as a pointed contemporary disavowal of postproduction software. Her latest set of ten large-scale C-prints, shown here alongside smaller black-and-white prints, comprises her most ambitious work to date, while also her most evasive.

Of the ten, at least six contain allusions to the human form. In several pieces, model wooden hands and amputated fingers sprouting from makeshift armatures wordlessly beckon to us for a closer look: A chubby doll leg rests inverted atop a crystal stopper in The Green Room (all works 2017), while a rubber-dipped work glove ominously adheres to a gauzy white surface stained with red in Coney Island #2. The objects’ physicality is further distorted by Nasatir’s use of the mirror—that jejune signifier of identity—in each of her compositions. Though the approach sounds heavy-handed, it is indeed useful, as the reflections of the props bleed beyond the pictures’ borders, allowing the artist’s haunted figures to slip out of view and indulge their own private whims.