This rather stark exhibit—large-scale framed pieces with lots of white space between—is actually lush with imagery and ideas. For contemporary photographers like Anne Collier, culture is an ocean of images to be dredged and re-presented. A key work here is a photo she found on eBay of a nude woman in the surf, which in her hands becomes a large-scale, seventies-ish surreal landscape.
Many of Collier’s appropriations show how the photography industry has always been driven by the male gaze. She reproduces an absurd soft-focus calendar of a bare-breasted woman looking through a box of old photos. Other ads have cameras poised near nipples and groins with astonishing innuendos in the text copy. Collier’s most provocative works, however, belong to her “Woman with a Camera” series. A movie poster shows Faye Dunaway, detective-like, snapping pics with her Nikon. A postcard of a native Kenyan woman obscures her face with a camera, her body striking a curvy model’s pose. In pictures taken from illustrated books, Marilyn Monroe sexily holds a camera with black-gloved hands; Judy Garland’s waifish face peers out from another.
At the same time, Collier’s images illustrate the beauty of printed matter. A large-scale series of found handout sheets from a motivational presentation aspires to Color Field painting. The back of a commercial postcard is unexpectedly lovely; the rainbow colors of Post-It tabs in a book glitter. Different from earlier appropriationists like Sherrie Levine, Collier photographs the entire book from which a photograph is lifted. The vehicle itself, she asserts, is yet another crucial frame. Collier owes a debt to Conceptual art in her re-inscriptions of found texts. Many of her works display the platitudinous language of self-help literature, read here as alternately profound and vapid. But Collier’s art is not bitter; even her indictments are roomy enough for sentiment. And there is much original seeing here, as in one image where a tangle of cassette tape becomes a kind of technological hair.
Altogether, this exhibit permits space for reflection (perhaps a relief from the glitzy David Bowie show). Wander in and engage with Collier’s lean appropriations, visual riddles, and smart cultural critique. (Mark Pohlad)
Through March 8 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago.