New York

Ilene Segalove, Ilene and Barbie: Close but No Cigar, 1976, archival ink jet on paper, 16 x 11".

Ilene Segalove, Ilene and Barbie: Close but No Cigar, 1976, archival ink jet on paper, 16 x 11".

Ilene Segalove

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Ilene Segalove, Ilene and Barbie: Close but No Cigar, 1976, archival ink jet on paper, 16 x 11".

A small, framed still from a black-and-white film shows a scene from the 1957 drama The Violators: A haggard, brooding man sits at the kitchen table, cigarette in hand, while his dutiful wife—robe-clad yet still vaguely glamorous—leans over him to fill his coffee cup. Hung adjacent to the still are four larger images, silver gelatin prints on Masonite. The first merely magnifies the shot from the film, thereby freeing it somewhat from its recognizable status as film still. The second repeats the image a third time but renders it with obvious difference. Here, though the overall schema is the same, every detail is changed. The haggard, brooding man is really haggard; the woman leaning over him, though bearing a distinct resemblance to the first, is jowlier, her robe’s folds revealing her body to be slightly lumpier. Strangely, though the scene looks more homely, it is also sparer, with any attention to the “reality effect” (a term I borrow from Barthes) usurped by reality itself. The third of these ancillary images magnifies the woman’s distinct shadowed profile, which falls sharply onto the refrigerator in the film still but is absent entirely from the bastard version. A final shot, small, the size of the film still though presented floating on a large black background, portrays the second-tier “set” sans people, with the table and chairs, breakfast accoutrements, and ugly curtains rendered the scene of the crime—or, more precisely, the scene of the scene.

The premise of this 1976 work by Ilene Segalove, titled If You Live Near Hollywood, You Can’t Help but Look Like Some 8x10 Glossy, is simple enough, and is rendered totally transparent by way of dead-pan text accompanying each image, which identifies the source picture and reveals that the shoddier simulacrum shows the artist’s “parents having breakfast in their home near Hollywood.” Yet there is more at stake here than a show-and-tell about the discrepancies between silver screen and daily life. Indeed, If You Live Near Hollywood . . . , like so much of the work included in Segalove’s small—but endlessly rich—solo exhibition at Andrea Rosen’s modest Gallery 2, possesses a humor and pathos that are unexpectedly touching. The majority of the work shown here was made from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, but Segalove—whose vested interest in images as they are variously circulated and received via television and film is evident—exceeds one’s expectations of an artist “responding” to that technological or imagistic environment. She addresses something of the amazingly reliable deficiencies of human beings in relation to the images they produce of themselves without reducing the enterprise to caricature. In Close but No Cigar, 1975, Segalove uses her own body to approximate (and ostensibly fail at) a number of cultural typologies, a topless Barbie doll and a nineteenth-century dandy among them. A selection of early videos, including The Mom Tapes, 1974–78, presciently tap into a now all-too-familiar drive to penetrate the private, as Segalove treats her environs anthropologically, unapologetically. Text works illuminate the ways in which drama and narrative can be evoked barely, without even images necessary to buoy them up. The six lines of Kenny, 1987, give over an entire unrequited love story in little more than fifty words.

Segalove’s work can—and should—be seen as part of a dialogue beginning in the ’70s that complexly circled popular culture and was predicated on a return to representation. Much has been made of her obvious implication in the West Coast aspect of that conversation. But her ambivalent embrace of movies and television is particular, and she unswervingly addresses such markers as her own gender, Jewishness, and class situatedness. There is, that is to say, nothing general, exactly, about Segalove’s insertion of self into culture, even though viewers inevitably find themselves cutting and pasting their own circumstances into each of her scenes. Hence, I agree with curator Dean Valentine’s assessment that this is work “anyone can relate to and everyone can understand,” but I also part ways: He claims that “the strengths of her work do not rest on political or social analyses.” I would say the opposite: It enacts—in fact embodies—both and, though it in some cases is nearly forty years old, feels achingly fresh for it.

Johanna Burton