Sandy Skoglund, Pink Sink, 1977, ink-jet print, 16 x 16".

Sandy Skoglund, Pink Sink, 1977, ink-jet print, 16 x 16".

Sandy Skoglund

Sandy Skoglund, Pink Sink, 1977, ink-jet print, 16 x 16".

Having attained international success in the 1980s and ’90s, Sandy Skoglund has flown under the radar in recent years. But “The Invented World,” a compact yet surprisingly comprehensive exhibition at the Rule Gallery (where she has shown since 1988), compellingly demonstrated how relevant the Connecticut-born artist’s imaginative, often startling installations and photographs can still be. Taking her cue from the exploding consumer culture of the 1960s and ’70s and inspiration from, among other elements of first-wave Pop, Claes Oldenburg’s The Store, 1961, Skoglund describes herself as a “post-Pop” artist, seeking beauty in the seemingly banal. This impulse was articulately channeled in the photographic still lifes that she placed on view at Rule—including Cookies on a Plate, 1978. To create this image, which transplants the modernist grid to the everyday sphere of the domestic, she used the most ordinary of elements—chocolate-striped, factory-made cookies axially arranged according to the interlocking horizontal and vertical lines of a disposable paper plate, which had in turn been positioned on a spread of turquoise-and-yellow-plaid shelf-liner paper.

This early experimentation with staged photography led Skoglund, alongside contemporaries such as Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons (who were working in similar veins), to begin creating elaborate sets and intricately choreographed performances that she would translate into still images. These chromatically rich pieces, for which she remains best known, often involved playful collisions of the real and the fantastic. For example, to make Fox Games, 1989—an image of a room-size installation now on long-term view at the Denver Art Museum—Skoglund created an eye-popping scene featuring a group of twenty-eight cast-resin gray foxes scampering through an unrelentingly red restaurant set. For Cats in Paris, 1993, she staged a Robert Longo–esque man amid a pack of cast fluorescent yellow-green cats—a tableau anchored in the background by the iconic arch of La Défense. At Rule Gallery, the props of these dark dreamscapes referenced several of the most well-known sets: Two black squirrels from Gathering Paradise, 1991, clung to a wall amid three saturated-blue leaves from A Breeze at Work, 1987, and a tan snake from Walking on Eggshells, 1997.

Also included here was the infrequently shown 1977 series “Reflections from Inside a Mobile Home,” photographs that, exactly as the title suggests, frame vignettes of domesticity within the fixtures and chromed appliance surfaces of a mobile home. These pieces not only resonated with the feminist discourse of the time but also with the post-Pop sensibility of the Pictures generation. Like the work of Simmons and Sherman, Skoglund’s images were always completely constructed. In Pink Sink, 1977, for example, a selection of produce in a bathroom sink is flanked by a toothbrush and silverware to form the center of an absurdist place setting; in Iron, 1977, a naked doll is precisely positioned so as to reflect in that appliance’s chrome plating. The use of moody lighting further dramatizes the picture.

In recent years, Skoglund’s commitment to physically staging each shot has taken on additional dimensions. In the era of digital cut-and-paste and instant color correction, her work stands as an analogue testament to a now-past fantasy of what hyper-Surrealist visual scapes might look like in the digital future. This show makes clear that the time is ripe for a larger reappraisal of Skoglund’s contributions.

Kyle MacMillan