Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stan Douglas: Disco Angola @Zwirner

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 large scale color photographs, framed in black with no mats, and hung in the smaller front room and larger back gallery space. All of the images are digital c-prints, mounted on Dibond aluminum, made in 2012. Physical dimensions range between 39x57 and 74x105, and each image (regardless of size) is printed in an edition of 5+2AP. Each image title includes a fictional date of 1974 or 1975. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The nature of photographic truth is perhaps the defining conceptual question that the digital age has forced us to reconsider. The relative ease with which images can now be manipulated, wholly fabricated and broadly reproduced has called into question the very heart of what it means to be "documentary" as well as whether we can still derive meaning from the idea of a singular "decisive moment". These are complicated, unruly lines of thinking that form the center of the debate about what photography can and should become.

In his last few projects, Stan Douglas has been probing many of these thorny issues. Last year, he showed work in which he posed as a mid 1940s Weegee-like press photographer, making painstakingly period-accurate black and white pictures of crime scenes and gangsters. In this recent show, he has fast forwarded a few decades, now modeling himself as a 1970s era photojournalist, with one leg in the underground disco scene in New York and the other covering the war for independence in Angola. Once again, he has staged images which mimic the look and feel of the times (flash lit smoky interiors with crowded dance floors and coat checks paired with images of rebel checkpoints and escaping refugees), their large size and digital crispness the only clues to their artificiality.

I think the ideas here are the most important: if Douglas can faithfully recreate clubs filled with polyester suits, afros, ass cheeks, and kung fu dance moves with the kind of offhand snapshot aesthetic that matches the time and place, how are we as viewers to separate photographic fact from fiction? If soldiers doing martial arts exercises in far off civil wars can be so effectively faked, how are we to judge the photojournalism we take for granted? Douglas' photographs challenge our sense of authenticity and break our trust with the camera. We can longer be entirely sure that the moment we think we see is the one that actually occurred.

What I also find intriguing is that if we assumed these images were "real" and resized them down to smaller proportions, I doubt we'd find any of them particularly memorable in the context of their "true" times. But as contemporary examples of meticulous photographic restaging, their underlying conceptual structure makes the images much more rich and complex; their power lies in their inauthenticity. All in, this is the kind of show that is designed to upend your expectations, and that off balance uncertainty is what makes these images worth thinking about further.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced at $40000, $45000, $50000, $60000, $65000, or $75000 each, based on size. Douglas' work has only been intermittently available at auction in recent years, with none of his more recent larger scale images coming up for sale. So while secondary market prices have ranged between $1000 and $35000, this data may not be entirely representative of his entire body of work. As such, gallery retail may still be the best option for interested collectors at this point.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: Daily Beast (here), Village Voice (here), ARTINFO (here)
Stan Douglas: Disco Angola
Through April 28th

David Zwirner
525 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011


Nigel W. said...

I miss being able to to look at your high resolution installation shots. :-(

Anne H said...

As always a very pleasant read !Thanks for making time to share!