Comments/Context: My first reaction upon walking into Ori Gersht's new show was that Japanese cherry blossoms have to be one of the most classic and therefore overdone subjects that an artist might tackle. Not only is there the backdrop of centuries of Japanese art depicting these specific trees in bloom, but plenty of famous photographers have more recently brought their own unique perspectives to the blush of pale pink in springtime. Whether the angle is the renewal of life and the turning of the seasons or the fragility and grace of the flowers and their symbolism of innocence and natural beauty, this is subject matter that has been discovered over and over again, perhaps not exhausted, but certainly not unexplored.
Without the knowledge of the backstory provided by the press release, I would never have known that Gersht was influenced by the trees' symbolism for kamikaze pilots from World War II, or by the location of some of the specimens in Hiroshima's irradiated soil. Given these narrative hooks, the menacing quality which has been drawn out starts to make more sense. While the surreal mood (and coloration) is obvious, I doubt that one could discern the military connections without some help. That said, and although not every image is startlingly memorable, Gersht has successfully infused this subject matter with a more complex set of emotions than is normally associated with the cliche of lovely spring flowers.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Ori Gersht: Falling Petals
548 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011