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Under Construction: Photography, Video and the (Re)presentation of Identity at Cristin Tierney Gallery

Art Scene

Under Construction: Photography, Video and the (Re)presentation of Identity at Cristin Tierney Gallery

A seismic shift in our understanding of photography has taken place over the last century. Whether it’s a family snapshot, a social media selfie or photojournalism, it has become evident that photographs do not in fact document reality. Instead, they interpret a scene, object or person through the subjective viewpoint of a photographer. Essentially, they are constructed.

Janet Biggs, Crew 181, First EVA, Sol 2, 2017. c-print. print: 28 x 42 inches (71.1 x 106.7 cm). Courtesy the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.

It is this point that is at the heart of the group exhibition Under Construction: Photography, Video and the (Re)presentation of Identityat Cristin Tierney Gallery. Through portraiture, cinematic style, candid photographs, video and more, the works on view toy with the eye of the viewer. As a whole, the exhibition calls into question what each individual who looks at images brings to their understanding of the image. The act of looking is inextricably linked to individual assumptions, stereotypes, opinions, interpretations and fictions.

Installation view of Under Construction: Photography, Video, and the (Re)presentation of Identity. Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York. September 6 – October 17, 2018. Photo by John Muggenborg.

One of the most accessible pieces in the exhibition is The Gay Couples of Whole Foods by Neil Goldberg. The work comprises a series of 45 small-scale candid photographs installed in a grid. Each image features a pair of men exiting a Whole Foods supermarket, men who Goldberg assumes are gay. At first glance, the scenes feel familiar—grocery shopping on a sunny afternoon in the city. Each image features two men carrying a paper bag with a Whole Foods logo on it. Upon closer study, details unfold in terms of posture, wardrobe and body language. Although the title of the work labels the men in the images “gay,” there is no real indication of whether this is a true statement or not. Additionally, the cultural value of shopping at Whole Foods is amplified in the piece, bringing to mind the relationship between the branding of healthy lifestyles and corporate culture. In multiple scenarios, Goldberg’s series questions how individuals read photographs, people and branding.

Neil Goldberg, The Gay Couples of Whole Foods(detail), 2013-15. series of 45 inkjet prints on archival paper. each: 11 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches (29.2 x 41.9 cm). Courtesy the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.

A striking 8×10 inch black and white photograph shot in 1979 by Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #32, offers a stunningly stripped-down version of her infamous performative self-portraits. In the image, Sherman uses stark contrast and light and shadow to create a familiar cinematic feel. She offers the camera a quietly seductive profile of her face as she lights a cigarette loosely held between her lips. Her eyes are in shadow and the rounded flicker of a flame rises from her fingertips, where she holds either a match or lighter. The intention in her somewhat obscured gaze is powerful, filling her presence in the frame with character. However, Sherman’s true purpose is rhetorical. It is a critique of the constructed female identity defined by the film industry—woman as an object of desire for the male gaze.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #32, 1979. silver gelatin print. paper: 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.3 cm).

With some thought and effort, Under Constructionwill make viewers pause, and perhaps contemplate the way photography can act as a liberatory mirror in the face of one’s own assumptions. The exhibition offers an eclectic mix of works that each question this same premise in radically different ways.

Under Construction: Photography, Video and the (Re)presentation of Identity is on view at Cristin Tierney Gallery through October 17, 2018.