Yoon combines two tactics popular in photography today: photographing people and things as specimens, and photographing dazzling inundations. Danwen Xing of China and Chris Jordan of Seattle adopt similar styles for their photos of piles of junk — old cellphones, diodes, cords, adapters, circuit boards — that become pretty, abstract patterns.
Chicago’s Brian Ulrich offers boring shots, in the popular deadpan photo style, of a woman talking on her cellphone in front of a supermarket refrigerator case, a boy staring at model fantasy warriors in a shop, and piles of used shoes and computer gear in thrift shops.
Over at Boston University’s Photographic Resource Center, the nine-artist exhibit “Ad/Agency,” organized by the center’s Leslie K. Brown, touches on similar consumerist America themes but examines them through the lens of advertising.
The best stuff here is New Yorker Penelope Umbrico’s Mirrors (from Catalogs), from 2002. She rephotographs pictures of mirrors — with their reflections — in home-improvement catalogues and then prints them at the real-life size of the mirror featured. Out of the corner of your eye they feel like real mirrors, but when you look at them, they show the carefully styled rooms in the catalogues: a tree on a bureau, a blurry soft white bed, perfume bottles neatly arranged on a dresser. They are literal reflections of our desires, epitomizing the ordered ideal of the American dream life. But they are places we can never enter.
Boston’s Michael Mittelman bought tacky knickknacks from the SkyMall catalogues you find in airline seat pockets, photographed the wretched things (an angel, an abstract blob, a wire box with a little wire man balanced on top who is “Thinking Out of the Box”), and then paid to have the images printed onto canvas by a firm that advertises this service in SkyMall. It’s a conceptually neat cycle — and joke. To gaze on these canvases is to feel as if your soul were being sucked out of you — Mittelman’s point, I expect. But the concept isn’t so clever that it redeems the pain.
Much of the work here (including more Brian Ulrich photos) feels flat. Some of the artists adopt the seductive look of advertising imagery to dissect advertising, with mixed results. Others aim for comments on shopping that don’t much register, but they produce pretty images in the process. Dean Kessmann of Washington, DC, presents images of plastic shopping bags back-lit and computer-scanned. The bags turn translucent at the edges, with opaque blotches from the labels (Safeway, Target, “Have a Nice Day”) at the center. They resemble delicate drifting jellyfish.
Scottish artist Jim Lambie, a 2005 Turner Prize finalist, has put together an installation at the Museum of Fine Arts in the long hall that connects the West Wing entrance with the Foster Gallery. Tape covers 100 feet of wall, creating a design of woven black and white stripes. Clinging here and there are seven assemblages of broken-mirror-covered purses and cut-up wooden chairs, the latter painted in bright colors of baby toys: red, blue, yellow, purple, green, and so on.
This corridor usually suffers from horrible feng shui. Lambie purportedly aimed to reanimate it by echoing motifs from the café opposite — think chairs with purses hanging from them. He does add some pizzazz; the effect is like glam Duchampian ambient disco muzak. And feels just as hollow.