New York

Tanya Marcuse

Tanya Marcuse’s second solo show consisted of surreal, uniformly sized platinum/palladium prints drawn from two different bodies of work. One of these, the picture cycle “Bridal Suite” (all works 1995), commemorated her wedding day: everything from the bridal gown to the bride’s intimate apparel to a concluding peek at distinctly private acts. Formally and in its preoccupation with representations of the body, this series echoed Marcuse’s first solo show for which the artist photographed fragments of classical Greek sculpture—bits of male and female bodies posed in galleries or sequestered away in cabinets. A male nude whittled down by the passage of time and then framed by Marcuse’s camera recalled Constantin Brancusi’s blunt Torso of a Young Man, 1917–24. Departing more radically from its referent, one image from “Bridal Suite” transformed the wedding gown, an elegant pleated affair, into a fluted column. Though this dress is the subject of a group of close-ups that form part of the larger series, nowhere does it feel like a stand-in for the bride who is busy placing the garment, either encased by or bereft of its protective plastic cover, in various poses. The accessories get treated more abstractly: the toe of a lacy white stocking hangs like a sugar teat, the stockings rolled up to the thigh suggest calla lilies. In the bride-wearing-a-G-string pictures, a little flesh creeps in none too prettily, momentarily freezing “Bridal Suite” at the weirdly disjunctive intersection of idealized virginity, fashionably sexy undergarments, and the reality of the human body (black pubic hair and all).

In the show we were given only a glimpse of the wedding day denouement—the bride stripped bare and getting it on with her new husband. It was one of the least explicit photos in this part of the series, since the rest were hidden away in the back office. Understandably, Marcuse had some reservations about her family seeing the most penetrating pictures, but one wonders that such inhibitions didn’t prevent her from taking them in the first place. All this coyness throws a veil over the real weakness in her work: even when it dares to be personal it tends to privilege formal concerns. The compositional structure of the still life is maintained to such a degree that the bridal photos seem constrained, despite their flagrant flirtations with figuration and the body. Historically speaking, one might say there’s too much of the pristine Paul Outerbridge, Jr. (fine for eggs) and not enough Man Ray (who, with just a flick of the shutter, could turn a dress into a truss). Though an obvious departure from wedding-album fare, these photos offer little in terms of either a critique or a reaffirmation of those rituals. In every other way, they are nearly conventional.

Less “daring,” the works from the “Museum” series in the back gallery were a more successful continuation of Marcuse’s teasing representations of bodies as objects. As in her earlier series of photographs, these images all depicted fragments. For example, all that remained of a broken Egyptian statue was a great stone lap, while a well-preserved classical torso was cropped so that it filled the photographic frame with its sensuous gyrations. Modulating the contrast between dark and light values into a warm tonal surface that is more characteristic of drawings than of modern photographs, Marcuse turned stone into skin.

Ingrid Schaffner