New York

Vikky Alexander


Along one wall of this narrow gallery Vikky Alexander placed a row of mirrors at eye level; just below them was a matching stretch of dark wood paneling, corporate-posh in its swirling grain. The opposite wall was covered, from side to side and from top to (almost) bottom, with one of those huge, stick-on photomurals of a beautiful mountain scene. If there’d been a desk around you might well have thought you’d stepped into the badly decorated reception area of a tool-and-die company in some anonymous industrial park.

But these allusions to bad corporate taste were only a part of Alexander’s installation. The band of mirrors was the focus of the work, more so than the grandiose photomural opposite it; in fact, I was more interested in the reflection of the mural than in the picture itself. Seen in the mirror the photograph was no longer quite so obviously flat, but instead took on the depth of the room; by the same token, the reflection obscured the billowing halftone moires and crude color of the photograph. And of course I found myself at the center of this new picture, the protagonist of its drama, hiking through its transcendent wilderness.

Mirrors have been associated with photography since the invention of the medium; more recently, they’ve become a primary fascination of many writers on the problems of seeing and knowing, from Maurice Merleau-Ponty to Jacques Lacan. In Alexander’s richly suggestive room, though, where the reproduced image was doubled back on itself, other references came to mind—Harpo and Groucho Marx’s breathtakingly comic mirror dance in A Night at the Opera (1935), for example,or, in a darker vein (and one that seems more appropriate today), Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles lost in a shattering hall of mirrors in Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1948).

The elements in Alexander’s installation were simple, but all have deep emotional and critical resonance. The striking success of the work was based on just this fact. The complex interplay among photograph, mirrors, paneling, and gallery allowed a wealth of interpretations, all more or less related, all more or less pointed. Appropriately, the work refused to allow us to settle for any one such reading to the exclusion of the rest.

Charles Hagen