New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

The Theatrical Image
Lori Nix
New Work
Botanic Garden by Lori Nix. Source:
Lori Nix, "Botanic Garden" 2008

Ever since Cindy Sherman made it okay to play dress up in front of the camera, the theatrical image has returned with a vengeance. Long held in disrepute, even contempt, it is now a leading genre on the gallery scene where photographers routinely compete to see who can come up with the most outrageous tableaux.

Right up there in the front row of dramatizers is Lori Nix whose new show at Clampart features large (what else!?) color prints of hand-made dioramas. Irony, decay, and trompe d’oeil are the stuff these images are made of, each documenting a meticulously fashioned theatrical set executed with anal compulsive precision and terminal neurotic dismay. Photography almost seems an after-thought, the final step in a long process of construction.

What is most interesting to me, when all is said and done, is how a contextual label can raise or lower status in the art world. Clearly what Nix and others have done has long been done as a matter of course in fashion photography. And in window design as well—an undertaking even lower down on the art world food chain–where one finds some of the most imaginative, wildly inventive, 3D assemblages around. But of course window design is not ART photography, nor is fashion photography, although the latter can sneak in there if the photographer is appropriately dead.

Vacuum Salesroom by Lori Nix. Source:
Lori Nix, "Vacuum Salesroom" 2006

Yet precisely the same thing done in a gallery-art world context becomes artistically significant and commercially valuable. Andy Warhol, of course, understood this perfectly and it was his particular brilliance to exploit it to the hilt. No one perceived the power of labels as clearly as he did. If the label is the most important thing about what you are wearing, why not wear the label out? Why not plaster it right across your chest? And that’s exactly what we do, nowadays.

But to return to Nix and her elaborate dioramas. For the most part well done, but less interesting for what they are than for what they infer.

Lori Nix
New Work

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