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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Out and AboutThursday, January 7, 2016Norman Borden

“First Thursdays” often come with a sense of heightened expectations, as in “What new work will surprise me tonight? Happily, the two shows I saw on January 7 did not disappoint. In fact, the real disappointment may have been just that there were only two opening receptions that night in Chelsea. No matter. My viewing time was well spent at Penelope Umbrico's intriguing new exhibition — her first at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery — called “Silvery Light.”
Photo by Penelope Umbrico . Source:
Penelope Umbrico

Umbrico, best known for appropriating images she finds on the internet by using search engines and picture sharing websites, created an installation of new photographic and video works that is related to her continued appropriation of other people's work. In the front gallery, the artist has installed the video piece Four Photographs of Rays of Sunlight in Grand Central, a collection of hundreds of iterations the artist found online of the iconic black and white photograph of sun rays through windows at Grand Central Terminal. Umbrico identified four versions of this original image she found on different websites that were selling the photographs as posters or vintage prints, and treated with different color filters, cropping, and “watermarks.” The artist tries to find the attribution for each of these images, which, on these sites, is as varied as the aesthetic treatments applied to them. She says, “My focus on collective practices in photography has led me to examine subjects that are collectively photographed. I take the sheer quantity of images online as a collective archive that represents us — a constantly changing auto-portrait...”
Photo by Norman Borden . Source: courtesy of the photographer
Norman Borden, "Penelope Umbrico, Bruce Silverstein at Chelsea Opening of Umbrico's "Silvery Light"." 2016

This is well demonstrated in the back gallery where she used Flickr, the photo-sharing website, to explore how the full moon is photographed and shared. Everyone's Photos Any License; Screenshot 2015-11-04 14.22.59 is a screenshot from her computer of every image tagged “full moon” on Flickr (a total of 1,146,034 images), which Umbrico out-put as a single print running the length of the gallery's floor. (Watch your step.) It's all very thought provoking and of the moment.
Photo by Norman Borden . Source: courtesy of the photographer
Norman Borden, "Penelope Umbrico opening at Bruce Silverstein" 2016

Photo by Norman Borden . Source: courtesy of the photographer
Norman Borden, "John Arsenault opening at Clampart" 2015

A block away at Clampart is something completely different —John Arsenault's “Barmaid,” which features 50 photographs that the artist took while working as a “bar-back” at the popular Los Angeles leather bar, The Eagle LA. Arsenault playfully referred to his position as a “barmaid,” but during the two years he worked there, he was able to take thousands of customer and employee portraits, interior shots of the bar and a lot of self-portraits, mostly with his iPhone. Considering that The Eagle LA followed a long tradition of leather, uniform and fetish, Arsenault had no shortage of unusual subjects.
Photo by John Arsenault . Source:
John Arsenault, "Barmaid (Self Portrait)"

In one of the essays in the monograph whose release coincided with the show, Larry Collins writes, “Édouard Manet's 1882 impressionist masterpiece 'A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,' in the Courtold Gallery in London, is the touchstone for John Arsenault's 'Barmaid.' The key photograph in Arsenault's 'Barmaid' is found somewhere in the middle of his group of fifty images. It re-creates Manet's painting closely, casting Arsenault himself as the barmaid, but now at the Eagle LA, 133 years later. Arsenault stands impassively, just as Manet's model does, with a bowl of limes instead of tangerines, an intense orange backlight as compensation. Behind Arsenault hangs a large painted mural of leathermen engaged in an erotic dance. The Folies-Bergère was like the Eagle in many respects: a place of entertainments and erotic negotiations. In Arsenault's collection we also find a photograph of the pink rose, a nod to the pink rose in Manet's painting. Arsenault has bared his furry chest to us, whereas the young woman has a floral posy at her décolletage.” For me, Barmaid doesn't have the appeal of Umbrico's work, but it does offer an intimate look at a particular lifestyle at a particular time and place.
Photo by  . Source:

And then just in case you've still got some loose change in your pocket after visiting these shows, stop by the new Tesla showroom a few doors away on West 25th Street. Prices there start at $70,000.

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat