New York

Jan Groover

Robert Miller Gallery

Whereas Jan Groover’s earlier black and white still lifes captured the reflective surfaces of stainless-steel cooking utensils with an etched clarity reminiscent of constructivist photograms, her recent images, cast in ethereal tones of faded silver and printed on thin translucent tissue paper, seem to be shrouded in a veil of diffused light. The effect is as delicate as a thin coating of ice on a leafless tree.

As in prior photographic projects, the details of individual objects are obscured in favor of their overall form: bottles and tin cans are stripped of their labels, animal jawbones are bleached and stripped of their skin, and, therefore, of their identity. Many items—bottles, a pistol, plaster casts—are painted in tones of chalky white. Set inside the photograph’s faded atmosphere, the still-life objects suggest weathered driftwood, as if they had been bleached by the sun and wind and then blown onto the ledges formed by aged-wooden planks.

Groover has always been expert in rendering her still-life objects in a metallic palette of platinum or silver. Whereas the earlier ensembles blending the reflective surfaces of cooking utensils, pots, and pans were infused with a pronounced domestic chill, here the sanctity of the domestic interior seems to have warmed with age and opened up, as if the background wallboards had rotted away to show the out-of-doors. Groover has pulled the camera back from its subject, and this, coupled with the panoramic format (12 by 20 inches) specifically designed for this project, increases the distance between viewer and subject: the surroundings now spill into and disrupt the controlled setting.

For the first time, the out-of-doors becomes part of Groover’s still life, as trees, dirt, and refuse form a backdrop to the objects, as the self-contained, constructed composition opens onto the environment, admitting glimpses of the landscape. A disorienting perceptual space is created from this collision of landscape and still life, challenging the phenomenological relationship between subject and object specific to each genre. The still life is a microcosm under the artist’s control, and, therefore, subject to the analysis of a camera’s lens. Landscape, to the contrary, surrounds the artist, and, therefore, extends beyond the scope of the lens, beyond the implied objectivity of the view it presents. Groover’s rigid control of the still life dissipates as the landscape invades the sanctity of the “objective” universe, underscoring the subjective limitations of knowledge. A tension between contracting and expanding spaces erupts as the genres merge. In these photographs, the suggestion of landscape erodes the once contained field, evoking 17th-century allegories of Vanitas in which man and culture are locked in conflict with nature.

Kirby Gookin