New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 34 October 24 to 30, 2012

The Artist as Curator
Michelle Stuart
Don Burmeister
Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story by Michelle Stuart. Source:
Michelle Stuart, "Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story" 2011

The influence of digital technology on the photography world is immense, its ramifications evolving daily. The presence and accessibility of vast quantities of information is an explosive energy source for artists of all kinds today, changing their role and opening up a new genre – the artist as curator. Whether it is the DJ creatively mixing digital samples, or video artists creating day long epics from accumulated clock scenes from old movies, it is no longer necessary to be the primary producer of the elements in one’s art. The current work by Michelle Stuart now on view at Leslie Tonkonow Gallery is a subtle and engaging use both of the new digital imaging technology and this curatorial imperative.

The show centers around 8 grids of framed digital prints. The images are both photographs by the artist and others gathered from a wide range of sources. They have been cropped and altered, often appearing in slightly different forms in the same piece, and are all are printed in muted tones. Most importantly, each print is the same size, giving it approximately the same visual weight.

The grid format is nothing new, of course, and some of the pieces in this show have an effect similar to the architectural grids of Hilla and Bernd Becher. The viewer begins comparing and contrasting each element, making a mental typology of the subject matter. Stewart has several such pieces in this show, for example, one, _____, that features astronomical plates of stars and galaxies.

In other grids however, Stewart’s emphasis is on a different effect of proximity: inferred narrative. Rather than an creating an abstract taxonomy, her best pieces use the urge to invent stories and make connections, whether concrete or symbolic, to create visual short stories or poems.

Perhaps the most effective of these pieces is called, “Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story”. The 4 rows of 6 pictures in this story/grid are framed on the upper left and lower right by versions of the same vision – a photographer photographing an improbable field of flowers. Among the 24 images are some well known images (from the Storyville photographs of E.J. Bellocq), but also many lesser known ones: costumed waiters from Munich taken in 1933, the sagging bed of a prostitute in Amsterdam from 1911, an Australian pantomime, Miss Gertrude Powys, from 1886, and a cropped ‘trick photograph’ from 1875 of a man carrying his own decapitated head. The title comes from the picture of a young dark haired girl, photographed by a paleontologist in the Argentinean town of Fuerta Quemada in 1928. (Hats off to Google Image Search!)

detail from Landscape of Evil by Michelle Stuart. Source:
Michelle Stuart, detail from "Landscape of Evil" 2008-2011

Although the sources of the photographs may have influenced her, the resulting pieces clearly transcending the originals. In this piece the tone of melancholy and surreal wonder is palpable. Although the plot line is enigmatic, we are in the hands of a master visual storyteller, who’s work repeatedly calls for a deeper look.

Michelle Stuart

Leslie Tonkonow
535 W 22nd St. 6th Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 255 8450

Thursday, September 6 to
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Hours: Tue-Sat, 10 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat