New York

Sandy Skoglund

Damon Brandt / Lorence Monk Gallery

Sandy Skoglund has consistently explored the relationship between reality and appearance. In the photograph Radioactive Cats, 1980, she conflated sculpture (green cats), painting (a fake tenement interior was painted gray), stage design (everything in the environment was picked, colored, and placed), and photography (documentary evidence of a staged environment). The work creates a tension between the actual (the photographer’s ability to record and document) and the invented (dozens of lime-green cats prowling through a kitchen in which an old woman opens a refrigerator while an old man sits at the table). Skoglund’s formal inventiveness, her use of color to articulate and accent space and surface (room and photograph), increased that tension by emphasizing the relationship between the artificial and natural on yet another level.

In the process of becoming known for her staged photographs, Skoglund has also been categorized as a photographer working in an antiphotographic vein—a sculptural or painterly photographer. To her credit, she has tried in recent years to go beyond the delimiting terms applied to her by curators and critics eager to name, define, and present a new trend. However, she has not always been successful in her attempts to go beyond these late-’80s, post-Modernist terms of recognition, and her two recent installations may provide clues as to why.

A Breeze at Work, 1987, a mixed-media installation, was shown at Damon Brandt, while trompe l’oeil bronze sculptures were installed at Lorence Monk. A Breeze at Work consisted of a brownish-russet office setting in which large bright blue leaves were shown in states of falling, drifting, floating, and settling. It was framed by the gallery space (an office within an office?), and the viewer was never quite sure of where to stand in relation to it. The piece provoked questions—was it an environment to be viewed from a distance, or a place to enter?—that recalled the environments of Ed Kienholz.

The second exhibition featured real leaves on the floor, and the objects were mounted on white-painted office furniture, which functioned as pedestals. Typically, the trompe l’oeil bronze sculptures juxtaposed leaves with office equipment, such as pencil sharpeners and telephones. This installation, with its leaves rustling underfoot and its careful placement of pedestals and sculptures, proved more kinetic than A Breeze at Work. While it worked as a disorienting, hectic environment, the individual sculptures were less successful. Taken out of this context, they would become souvenirs of an experience.

It has been remarked that Skoglund is the first artist to show the other side of her “fabricated” photographs. This analysis is essentially neoformalist, applauding the artist for revealing the “literal” truth of her art. I would suggest that Skoglund, in her best work, investigates the Duchampian notion of “looking at seeing,” and opposes a Duchampian illogic to formalism’s logic. That her new pieces are susceptible to these formalist claims, I suspect, in part reflects a slackening in her approach.

John Yau