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Speech at Pace/MacGill Gallery

Art Scene

Speech at Pace/MacGill Gallery

Americans are entering an era where the potential for media blackouts, a surge in protests in the streets, and tenuous relations between the oval office and the press will test the strength of the United States Constitution’s 1st Amendment. A timely exhibition, Speech, addresses this issue by taking a critical look back at the imaging of free speech through both a documentary and artistic lens.

Joann Verburg, Terrorized, 2006

Both color and black and white photographs are elegantly installed in groups that include a variety of image sizes hung at different heights on the gallery’s walls. The effect gives the work a sense of movement and energy, perhaps helping viewers to connect current political fervor with that of the past. A more direct link is made to the current climate via an installation in the gallery space of a group of protest signs strewn across the gallery floor. They address women’s reproductive rights, education, the 2016 presidential election, and calls to resist.

Garry Winogrand, Muhammad Ali-Oscar Bonavena Press Conference, New York, 1970

Several renowned photographers are included in the exhibition, including Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, and Lee Friedlander. In an image by Garry Winogrand, a portrait of the legendary, Muhammad Ali, captures an American hero who triumphantly used his right to free speech. Standing in the top left of the frame in a white bathrobe, Ali commands a bevy of reporters clearly amused and eager to capture his dynamic wordplay. Winogrand’s composition in the image expertly illustrates the powerful position Ali held in popular culture at the height of his career. Ali’s white robe shines above the dark colored business attire of the press who appear to adoringly kneel before him as they cascade across the frame.

Irving Penn, Carson McCullers, New York, 1950

A stunning black and white portrait by Irving Penn, shot in 1950, captures Carson McCullers, author of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a novel that explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in the southern United States. A pensive sadness pushes out of the image frame through the eyes, mouth and cropped head of McCullers. The interplay of the subject’s short black hair, black jacket with white embroidery, and white shirtsleeve creates a perfect frame for McCullers side lit face. Added touches that speak volumes in the frame are a cigarette and small metallic accents including a cufflink, a ring, and a cigarette holder.

Zhang Huan, 1/2 (Text), 1998

A self-portrait by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, 1/2 (Text), also presents a type of dislocation expressed through text. In the image the artist invited friends to write on his body with black ink. The text is unreadable for most western viewers who may only be able to read Huan as an Asian body. The work explores the limits of language and considers the body as a form of language, in lieu of the spoken or written word. Along with many other works in the exhibition, 1/2 (Text) gives viewers a chance to reflect on the depths, importance, joys, and complications of speech. Collectively the works bring contemporary, historical, abstract, conceptual, and literal representations of language together, reminding viewers that what and how someone says something, matters.

 

Speech at Pace/MacGill Gallery is on view through April 29, 2017.

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