Friday, January 15, 2010

Sharon Lockhart, Lunch Break @Gladstone

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 photographic works (made up of 18 prints) and 1 video, framed in black with no mat, and hung in a series of 5 chopped up gallery spaces (reception, main, project, back and corridor), including a darkened viewing room. The photographs on view can be organized into three groups:
  • Lunch box still lifes: There are 5 still life works, each consisting of 2 or 3 chromogenic prints. Each individual print is 24x30, and all of the images were made in 2008. The works are titled by the owner's name and job function. No information about edition sizes was readily available.
  • Snack shops: There are 5 images of worker-run snack shops. All of the photographs are 40x50 chromogenic prints, made in 2008.
  • Workers eating: There is one larger image of workers eating at a metal picnic table. This photograph is a 48x68 chromogenic print from 2008.
The video, entitled Lunch Break, is 83 minutes long, from 2008. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: In our fast paced, attention starved world, Sharon Lockhart's films and photographs are a remarkable example of what is to be discovered when even the most mundane of subjects is given in-depth consideration and acute study. In these works, Lockhart has meticulously observed the daily routines at the Bath Ironworks in Maine, capturing the minute human details and overlooked nuances of a wearying life of labor.

The cornerstone of this exhibit is the film, Lunch Break, where the camera moves at an agonizingly slow pace down a long, narrow passageway, lined with aging metal lockers and benches, surrounded by the ambient hum and growl of the machines. Workers sit alone or in pairs, quietly eating, reading a book, or talking. The relentless closing in of the camera is so drawn out that each and every tiny movement is given full attention; if you think you've ever really watched someone eat a sandwich, think again - in this film, the action is so deliberate that every gesture and fidget is highlighted. The effect is meditative, but also sadly melancholy; even though these people have found small moments of personal time, their feelings of isolation, boredom, repetition, and fatigue are palpable.

The still photographs on display in the exhibit take these themes and expand them in varying directions. Still life images of the workers' lunch containers have been taken in an objective commercial fashion; the battered metal pails, dirty picnic baskets, and plastic personal coolers sit against blank backgrounds, often opened up to display the contents. Each is a small vignette of a single life: the decorative stickers, a sandwich in tinfoil, a pack of cigarettes, bottles of medications, newspapers, they all tell the story of a unique person, toiling in obscurity in this factory. A second group of photographs depicts the improvised snack carts and coffee stands run by the employees. Friendly hand lettered signs announce Dirty Don's Delicious Dogs or John's Java Hut, with candy and donuts arrayed on battered tables and folding work benches, unruly wires trailing down from the ceiling; each is a small attempt to make this monotonous place more personal. A final image of a group of workers clustered around a metal lunch table tells the hidden stories of subtle social relationships, hierarchies and connections amidst what appears (from the outside) to be one large, uniform group of faceless workers.

Overall, although the work has a conceptual bent, Lockhart finds a way to inject a feeling of anthropological fascination and genuine concern into a dreary and depressing subject, uncovering surprisingly poignant moments of humanity in the everyday rituals and objects of ordinary people.

Collector's POV: Although I didn't get a look at an actual detailed price list, I was told the works in this show ranged in price between $9000 and $30000; I'm not sure if that spectrum that includes the video itself. Lockhart's photographs have been intermittently available in the secondary markets in the past five years or so, selling between $5000 and $35000. Blum & Poe is her West coast representative, and recently had an exhibition of this same body of work (here).

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Reviews: Artforum (here), Artslant (here)
Sharon Lockhart, Lunch Break
Through January 30th

515 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011
ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: There will be no posts on Monday, due to the MLK holiday in the US. Back Tuesday.

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