Los Angeles

Judy Fiskin

Asher Faure Gallery

Poring over Judy Fiskin’s tiny images is a little like searching the grounds in the bottom of a cup of Turkish coffee for a last sip of sweetness; her dense photographs represent a world reduced to a concentrated visual sediment. This exhibition of 15 framed gelatin silver prints entitled “Some Art,” (all works 1990) offers up a wildly diverse array of art objects, including a painted crouching tiger, a 19th-century engraving of tobacco jars, several assortments of glass ornaments, and a vignette from The Iliad, found on a Wedgwood plate.

When shrunk to 2¾ square inches and mounted in identical black lacquered frames within ample fields of white, the differences of medium, provenance, and the taste reflected by Fiskin’s separate subjects are reduced. The photographs themselves, edged in black with lots of dark tones, seem almost to have the substance of objects. Fiskin has described her images as edible, and indeed one must lean so close to savor these delectible miniature depictions that one is almost tempted to lick them. But this vantage point also reveals stylistic contradictions that inform Fiskin’s selections of subject matter.

If Fiskin were simply inventorying the more bizarre reaches of bad taste, her work might read as unbearably condescending, but she is more concerned with the esthetic transformations that occur in photographically detaching the subject from its usual context. Some Art #325 shows a carved wooden relief of a pair of leaping male and female dancers, posed as if in coital transports. Portions of the bottom and sides of the object’s frame are visible within the black border of Fiskin’s own images, while the white mat is just slightly darker than the uninflected field surrounding the scene. The contextual cues that would normally guide one’s assessment of the quality of the floral depiction in Some Art #322 have been rendered indecipherable within Fiskin’s image. Her cropping of the picture, so that the black photographic border cuts off the sides of the painted oval, draws the eye away from the image center and toward the imposing graphic event at its margins.

Indeed, the most mysterious and compelling works here are those in which the distance between camera and subject has the effect of loosening them from their settings. Some Art #320 is a very dark view of a screen of leaded-glass panels in which disks of colored glass have been set. These disks merely register darker circles in the near blackness of the image, except for a trio made of lighter glass swirls that read like pale ellipsis against the dark field. We don’t know where Fiskin stood in relation to the screen, either spatially or ideologically, but the resemblance of her image to a textual sign for open-endedness graphically reiterates the liberating vision the artist has asked us to share.

Buzz Spector