Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Shirin Neshat, The Book of Kings @Gladstone
Comments/Context: Shirin Neshat's newest photographs are a direct response to recent political events in the Middle East, encompassing both the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 and the broader protests and revolutions of the Arab Spring. Her images take her back to her mid 1990s aesthetic style (spare black and white portraits with faces covered in painstakingly detailed calligraphy) and apply this haunting look to contrasting groups of participants (Masses, Patriots and Villains) in the struggle for power and freedom.
The Masses portraits are hung in a overpowering 3x15 grid that covers an entire wall with serious, staring head shots. Her subjects run the gamut from the older generation to younger people, and each everyday face provides tiny nuances of group emotion: anxiety, uncertainty, resignation, hope, aspiration. The Patriots images step back to show torso level portraits, with the universally young subjects placing their right hands over their hearts. These activist faces have even more intense expressions: defiance, fervor, pride, devotion, even potentially hatred(the image of Nida is particularly striking, second from the right, at right). The calligraphic text written on their skin is larger and bolder than on the people from Masses, as if shouting rather than whispering, even though the poses are equally sober and quiet. The Villains are full length portraits of older men, where the calligraphic text has been replaced with elaborate illustrations across their bare chests like tattoos. These drawings of ancient war (complete with spurting decapitations in blood red) reinforce the feeling of implicit violence (religious or political) that hangs in the air. Taken together, these three sets of participants are made into metaphors, or symbols of simplified emotions.
With this caveat of likely misunderstanding, I do think that many of these portraits are quite beautiful, even if they are sometimes harsh and heavy handed. The whole body of work is a personal reminder of the powerful emotions that surround the abstraction of political revolution, where individuals (not types) take part in the action on the front lines.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The works from Masses are $35000 each, Patriots are $65000 each, and Villains are $85000 each. The other two photographs are $65000 and $75000 respectively. Neshat's images are regularly available in the secondary markets, particularly I Am Its Secret, which was printed in an edition of 250. Recent prices at auction have ranged from roughly $3000 to $70000.
Shirin Neshat, The Book of Kings
Through February 11th
515 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011