San Francisco

Phillip Galgiani

SFAI Walter and McBean Galleries

In “Basic Meaning: A Photographic Work in Four Parts,” Phillip Galgiani investigates the ways in which juxtaposition and context determine meaning. The work is presented in four sections; each section is comprised of ten 30-by-40-inch black and white photographs and demonstrates’a specific conceptual premise or approach to the formation of context. In section one, the ten objects Galgiani works with (a hat, a funnel, a flashlight, and such) are presented in combination: one large photograph of an object is counterpointed against four smaller pictures of the other objects. In section two, each object is presented in a large blowup overlaid with printed phrases loosely pertaining to that object. In part three, Galgiani creates a utilitarian context: an enlarged photograph of a single object is partially obscured by a sequence of smaller pictures showing the object in use. In the fourth and final part of the installation, each of the ten photographs shows the objects (photographed in groups of three) floating against a white field.

“Basic Meaning” relates to Galgiani’s fabricated tableaux in that the artist still employs commonplace objects in contextual constructions. Absent here, however, is the enigmatic undercurrent that infused the earlier images with playfulness and mystery. In fact the central strength of Galgiani’s previous work was the way in which he appropriated vernacular strategies for totally nonutilitarian, almost anarchistic motives. “Basic Meaning” exposes the framework of ideas with which he has been working for several years, but the eccentricity that made his work interesting and original is lacking. Instead, one finds ideas that have been well-mined by many other artists and photographers.

It was Galgiani’s intention that the objects he photographed would “accumulate history” in the first three sections, thereby making clear (and meaningful) the fourth section. In the fourth and final section Galgiani does seem to move beyond a plodding didacticism; fashioning juxtapositions that are improbable and absurdist, he undercuts the utilitarian notions that normally define his objects. But the point (and failure) of “Basic Meaning” is that the visual climax occurring in the fourth section really stands independent of the photographic exercises of the first three parts. While Galgiani is correct in arguing that context is integral to meaning, his approach to this premise, rather than appearing imaginative or new, comes across as academic and déjà vu.

Hal Fischer