By Joseph A. W. Quintela
Smith&Jones Art is pleased to present a solo exhibition of current surreal analog photographs by artist Barbara Rosenthal from June 9th to July 2nd, 2016 at Galerie Protégé in New York’s Chelsea art district. The first complete American showing of this series comes on the heels of a lauded Berlin exhibition in February and in conjunction with the release of the definitive edition of the artist’s first novel, “Wish for Amnesia,” by Deadly Chaps Press (New York). Together, the exhibition and book release represent the culmination of a 36-year work-in-progress finally brought to the public eye through 2 years of tireless effort by Rosenthal and publisher/curator, Joseph. A. W. Quintela. The 3-week exhibition will feature all 50 of her Surreal Photographs reproduced in the latest 6 draft editions of the novel, as well as a display of all 12 of these proto-publications. These draft editions, themselves, are a compelling collection of writerly process seen here now as artistic artifact.
With ever-increasing attention paid to Rosenthal’s essential contributions to the history of Performance, Video, and New Media Art, the exhibition pays homage to an equally significant, if sometimes overlooked, facet of her artistry: her work in Photography. As a fully-integrated aspect of her debut novel (and not mere chapter headers), these 50 photographs, even though shot over decades and in many countries, offer an unusual visual element to the mis-en-scene of the novel’s text, compelling the reader to approach each word with the mindset of surreal sensory de-arrangement typified by Arthur Rimbaud. Taken on their own, the suite offers a window into the painstakingly-developed, highly-kinetic visual sense that has guided Rosenthal's eye across mediums. Often unsettling, ever-witty, and marked with the suggestion of the same multi-layered illusion that pervades both her prose and performance, the photographs are further unified by the most prominent theme of her remarkable oeuvre: provocation.
Rosenthal deploys odd angles, unexpected relationships and curious vignettes to provoke the eye into an unguarded dispute with its (often faulty) perception of reality. These techniques are played out in, for example, the evocative series of dolls engaged in some activity: they are saturated with the queasy feeling of an emotional tempest just beneath the surface of each doll’s serene outer visage. Similarly, the photo Bird in the Window, Brown 3182+3184, Montreal, 2012, the chosen exhibition image, ambushes the mind with a series of disturbing questions in an otherwise pastoral scene: is it real or decorative? Inside or out? Lulling those of us on the other side of her window into sleep or wrenching us from a dream? In some frames shot while moving, she has watched elements change position around her until they smash into a startling composition; motion is evident but only tentatively stabilized, and we are destabilized to view it. She uses Olympus OM-1 fully manual analog 35mm cameras and lenses, and prints digitally. About 41 of the images were composed completely in the camera and printed full-frame, and 9 were digitally distorted, composited, or, “re-colorated,” as she calls it. For 12 years, she taught Photography at Parsons School of Design, NYC.
The 23-day exhibition at Galerie Protégé will be punctuated by two artist’s receptions, the first on Tuesday, June 14 (6-8pm) and the second on Thursday, June 30th (5:30-7:30pm). Rosenthal will read and record one chapter of the novel Wish for Amnesia during each reception, carrying on with another project that has evolved over the course of the last two years: the creation of an author-read video performance of the book. This floating composite performance video, begun at the launch of the first galley-proof, in Barletta, Italy in February, 2015, has been proceeding one chapter at a time via Rosenthal’s celebrated readings at literary and artistic events across the world, further demonstrating her uncanny ability to allow artistic work to flow seamlessly within various projects, even (or perhaps, particularly) when moving across media. Joining her to read from their own works will be some of the various curators of reading events in NYC who made Barbara Rosenthal’s composite video possible.