New York

Anne Collier

Anton Kern Gallery

Anne Collier is an exceedingly patient artist, revisiting key themes again and again to refine the delicate balance between what she has termed her “forensic aesthetics” and her photographs’ “psychological or emotive” content. This exhibition, her first full-scale one-person show in New York, came after more than a dozen other solo presentations, including a small backroom debut at this venue in early 2008 that offers several illuminating points of comparison. A 2007 image of a self-help book inviting its readers to outline individual goals found its corollary in First Person 1–4, 2009, a four-part photograph of a book offering “your personality profile checklist.” A photograph of a poster depicting a sunset (Studio Sunset, 2007) included in the earlier exhibition morphed, in this show, into Open Book #1 (Crépuscules), 2009, a picture of hands holding open a book to reveal a very similar image. Each work Collier makes achieves specific effects, yet so uniform and seemingly transparent is her photographic technique, so coherent her taste, and so structurally sound the conceptual scaffolding that underpins her images that viewers seem to admire or dismiss her art in equal measure. Such a neat bifurcation is perhaps testament to the balance, suggested above, that she achieves with each picture. Yet because her photographs appear so thoroughly premeditated, it can be easy for naysayers and proponents alike never to really think about them.

I like Collier’s photographs, and I believe that, as is true of much that is elegant and stoic at once, they reward effort. Her artistic process, by which she captures vernacular objects in an antiseptic “commercial” style, is reliable and flawless. Her subject matter, too, is consistent, with album covers, posters, eyes, cameras, self-help literature, and media depictions of women figuring repeatedly. The earlier Kern show included an image of Tim Buckley’s LP Happy Sad, while this one presents an image of an album cover by the Smiths that itself reproduces a still from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée. As these examples suggest, Collier’s photographs are satisfyingly clever, while their inviolable stylistic consistency dramatizes the fact that one’s criteria for judgment are generally a matter of intuition. The lyric or romantic imagery in the photographs, meanwhile, is chosen in part to invoke sentimental, private associations in the viewer, thus rendering dispassionate discrimination impossible. To assess this body of work, one must think concretely not only about the images but about what one brings to them.

Such concerns arise alongside pressing questions that emerge from the artist’s own approach to her medium. For Collier, our understanding of photography is conditioned by its everyday use, as well as by the odd process with which we invest impersonal, commercial items such as books or record sleeves with the highly personal meanings she so ably induces. Likewise, she explores the complicated weave of presentation and concealment that inheres in the use of a camera—a machine—for personal expression: Witness May/Jun 2009 (Cindy Sherman, Mark Seliger), 2009, which appropriates a media image of an artist known for camouflaging herself, or Developing Tray #2 (Grey), 2009, in which Collier’s own eye gazes out at the viewer from a print submerged in developer. This latter image, visually stark and conceptually compacted, dry as can be yet possessing a surprising vulnerability, underscores just how much value Collier extracts from the seemingly narrow territory she has chosen to explore.

Brian Sholis