This past weekend, I visited Gallery 339 for the first time. It is a beautiful, modern space, set apart in a neighborhood that lacks such institutions (21st and Pine), and it is dedicated exclusively to photography. Until January 28th, Gallery 339 is showing two exhibitions: William Larson, The Cut, and Phillip Toledano, A New Kind of Beauty.
I was very little impressed by Larson’s work. The artist’s statement described a complex inquiry into the editing process of film making, obliterating sequences and splicing sections of time. Unfortunately the photographs themselves didn’t capture that intrigue. The images conveyed nothing more than a repetitive play with uninspired abstract shapes, stacked in the middle of the image, interlaced with cut-out film. I left the exhibition disappointed. I had imagined the visual aspect of Larson’s work to stand its ground when inspired by such a rich and promising concept.
Toledano’s green-gray, larger than life photographs of people that have undergone a significant amount of plastic surgery left me with a lingering sense of both fascination and discomfort. The strangeness of the mutilated and disfigured faces and bodies was darkened by the sterile and morbid quality of the images: each subject was photographed in a cool green light against a black background, the camera being thus able to capture odd details such as enlarged pores or caked makeup. As I confronted each image – uneven lips, obscenely large and disfigured breasts, androgynous features – I became mesmerized by a sick kind of curiosity. I was also confused by what I was looking at: was there beauty in these images, and if yes, where did it come from? Did it come from these distorted, altered bodies, or only from the artist’s lenses and the way he perceived his subjects? No doubt the photographs are beautifully done, but they are a perhaps unwelcome challenge to the viewer to probe their assumptions about beauty and to maybe recognize a new kind. Provocative and challenging, A New Kind of Beauty is certainly an exhibition worth seeing, and Gallery 339 a gallery worth following.