New York

Kathleen Seltzer

Sonnabend Gallery

KATHLEEN SELTZER takes black-and-white photographs whose very emulsion is style. Her tableaux are like New Yorker ads: a gloved hand here, a gowned leg there, turning elegantly on the finest satin. Cropped coyly, they are enigmatic—and posed so finely it hurts.

The play of texture and transparency reminds one of Jan Groover, only Groover turned Princess Daisy. Whereas Groover makes a mundane object a reservoir of new vision and so redeems it from its banality, Seltzer makes the mundane as vapid visually as it is ethically—nothing is redeemed. Her subjects bear social nuances like gifts, left uninflected. “We know what we are,” they say, “we are class.” And her photos reply “yes, yes.” They suck up to them and pander to us.

Perhaps we all do this in life—but why here? Seltzer surrenders techniques of art to the manners of the chic; she dismisses art to solicit society. Culture becomes couture and form is the cut of a dress, the line of a neck. It is enough to turn a modern Prufrock into a Madison Avenue terrorist.

Each crop, each angle becomes the subject (in both senses of the word). One photograph shows a fine tableau (pears, wine glass), two fine arms, and a hand with a knife. (Will she commit murder or elegantly slice the fruit? Who cares?) The knife gleams: such women dazzle “naturally.” Light, it seems, is a property of the elite.

Each photo is a part (it would be too insolent, to see such women whole), like a clue, a record of a crime. And there are many elegant down or dead babes—an arm hangs from a bed, a gowned lady lies in a dark garden.

Murder is a lurid luxury, only, it seems even the murdered are too bored to play this elegant game of CLUE. Sidney Sheldon, where are you?

What is elegance? Call it nonchalance. And what is nonchalance? Indifference. Why are the elegant indifferent? Because everything is the same: they either own it or can. Possession is as natural to these women as is breathing. All things are given, that is, taken, for granted.

And Seltzer invites us to share in it, giving us an intro, via “art,” to the elite (but no faces, no names please). The effect is strange: our contemplation becomes their languor. We desire to touch satin, skin; but it is taboo—these are untouchables.

There is no irony in Seltzer’s photographs, no campy or kitschy take—no criticism of any sort. These rich works are bankrupt. At first they enrage, then appear ridiculous.

Hal Foster