New York

Sandy Skoglund

Castelli Graphics

For the past year and a half, Sandy Skoglund has been creating fantasy environments and using them as backdrops for photographed dramas. These large color pictures often depict one or two people trapped in spaces that have been overrun by common objects or domestic animals. Skoglund’s latest extravaganza, Revenge of the Goldfish, is a 30- by 40-inch Cibachrome print, which was exhibited together with the “stage set” that it depicts.

Skoglund’s wit, energy and imagination were evident in the 18-by 18-foot installation: a scale model of a rather nondescript bedroom, its furnishings and walls painted the same deep shade of aqua blue-green. The color made the room appear as if it were submerged under water—an impression reinforced by swarms of ceramic goldfish painted a brilliant red-orange. Hung from the ceiling, jutting out from the walls, lying on upholstered chairs, wrapping themselves around lamps, popping out of open drawers, these bizarre fish overpowered the space. Apparently they had already conquered the room’s inhabitants, since a pillow and sheet lay crumpled on the floor, and a mysterious lump on the bed was piled high with the vengeful fish.

The overall impression given by the installation was of being present at the scene of a crime, or of witnessing the aftermath of a scuffle without having any idea of what led up to it. The photograph was equally ambiguous—it depicts the same room, but inhabited by a woman asleep under the sheets and a boy sitting on the edge of the bed surveying the fish fiasco with resignation. No narrative is suggested here; the picture simply presents the climax of what must have been an extraordinary drama. Like Skoglund’s earlier Hangers and Radioactive Cats, Revenge of the Goldfish is a fantasy about mundane and unobtrusive details of daily life that suddenly get out of control—a fantasy that transforms obsession into humor.

By choosing to set up the situations that she photographs, Skoglund works within a tradition that spans the history of photography. Julia Margaret Cameron and William Mortensen, for instance, worked in this “directorial” mode (A.D. Coleman’s phrase). But instead of using literary or mythic sources as Cameron and Mortensen did, Skoglund draws from her own fantasies taking imagery from popular culture. In fact, Skoglund at one time worked at Disneyland—and her art suggests that the experience left its mark on her imagination.

But Skoglund is also trained as a painter. Her images are extremely sophisticated in the use of color and space, and in the way in which the print surface is treated as an overall field of color. Squinting makes the people in the picture appear to be bombarded, not by goldfish, but by the sort of dots found in a ’60s Larry Poons painting. From this perspective, Revenge of the Goldfish could easily be retitled “Revenge on the Minimalists.”

Shelley Rice