Friday, September 24, 2010

An-My Lê @Murray Guy

JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 color works, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the North (8 images) and South (6 images and 1 set of 5 images as one work) galleries and in the back office area (2 images). All of the works are archival pigment prints, available in editions of 5, and made between 2009 and 2010. The prints come in two sizes, 40x57 and 27x38; there are 12 works in the larger size and 4 works in the smaller size on display, with the set of 5 images also in the smaller size. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: An-My has built her photographic career around exploring the militarization of our world. Rather than taking documentary photographs of combat operations like a war correspondent, she has pointed her camera at unseen facets of the military, and investigated the kinds of imagery of war that we have become accustomed to seeing. Her recent work has explored realistic desert training camps and Vietnam re-enactments, asking layered questions about the nature of war, its downstream impacts and the way in which pictures are part of how we internalize and remember these moments.
Her newest images come at military operations from yet another oblique angle, documenting the day-to-day reality of humanitarian and relief missions, training sessions, security details, and hospital services performed by military personnel. In contrast to our 24-hour news view of exploding bombs and constant intense action, these images have an overwhelming sense of the mundane; in most cases, not much is happening. Soldiers wait around, run through routine exercises, and perform a variety of important services without fanfare: they provide first aid training and fix teeth in Ghana, manage the distribution of supplies in Haiti, cut down trees and clear trip wires in the jungle of Indonesia, and practice putting out naval fires in Senegal. She deftly switches between the massive scale of the military machine (a ship moving through the Suez Canal) to more intimate portraits of individual soldiers and sailors (often women), at work but not idealized. Her pictures are a strong reminder of all the tasks the military performs that don't involve firing rifles and launching rockets, of the many down-time moments and quiet in-between times where straightforward, necessary tasks are getting done.
Her image of a hospital ship waiting room in Vietnam, where a Buddhist nun and a Navy sailor sit together on folding chairs, is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the mood of this project. There are no obvious bad guys, no generals, no bombs and bullets, just an unexpected juxtaposition of cultures, thrown together by the sprawl of the military. An-My Lê's photographs don't shout at you, and if you blow by them too quickly, you'll miss their resonance. Her images are subtle and nuanced, showing us not the cleaned up head shot portraits of heroic soldiers, but those same folks straightening their ties and fixing their hair before the images are taken. These pictures are the back story to the one you see on the news, large scale vignettes of the unseen military, full of small contradictions and forgotten hard work.

Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows: the 40x57 prints are $12000, the 27x38 prints are $8500, and the set of 5 images is $35000. An-My Lê's work has very little history in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Review: Art in America (here)
  • Features: art21 (here)
  • Exhibit: MoCP, 2007 (here)
  • Book: Small Wars (here)
Through October 30th
453 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011

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