New York

Lorna Bieber

Julie Saul Gallery

Culled from vintage sources—decorator’s magazines circa the late ’40s and early ’50s—Lorna Bieber’s photographs of interiors map the domestic landscape of America. The views they present evoke the rise of the American middle class, the era just before the parlor was turned into a TV room. The coziness of these rooms—crammed with side tables and protected from drafts by drapes in every window—is keenly offset by a sense of dissatisfaction with the overall decor, a combination of French provincial and “country living.” In Chairs, 1994, the tripartite imagery seems to document the gaze of a decorator as it scans the room, slides over an armchair, jumps back, freezes, and glowers at the guilty side chair. Besides the offending furniture, there is also the outdoors to contend with; it beckons loudly from large windows and casts its reflection in the overly plentiful mirrors. Sometimes it even moves directly indoors. The atmosphere of Drapes, 1993–94, is tremulous with the shadowy play of leaves that appear to haunt the living room.

The key to the sense of malaise that suffuses these photographs seems to lie in the piece entitled Cabin, 1993–94. Like the dwelling in the woods that pops up in every fairy tale, this cabin is at once cute and sinister. Remember the dwarf in the red slicker in the movie Don’t Look Now, 1973, who menaced Donald Sutherland all over Venice by reminding him of his drowned daughter? Well, there’s a similar thing going on with this dratted cabin. It keeps turning up unexpectedly throughout the show, always off in the corner of the picture. It’s the dream house—the one that can be matched neither by a decorator’s efforts nor by the everyday expectations encoded in suburban interiors.

In making these pictures, Bieber deploys cropping and montage techniques that recall those of Oliver Wasow. But where Wasow crafts a seamless Technicolor view of imminent apocalypse, Bieber sticks to the home front, evoking an irrevocably past era with good oldfashioned black and white. Her work makes dramatic use of traditional darkroom effects—the images burn and glare—though her use of the grease pencil can turn into extraneous frosting, while the more self-conscious collages, such as the one with baby heads on Mommy’s and Daddy’s bodies, look like silly knock-offs of Hannah Höch. Bieber’s acumen as a photo director is much more compelling. When she makes the floor fall away from the room in Hassock, 1993–94, the perfectly appointed nimbus that remains is an alluring phantasmagoria.

Ingrid Schaffner