Magazine article Artforum International

John Stezaker: Friedrich Petzel Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

John Stezaker: Friedrich Petzel Gallery

Article excerpt

John Stezaker's methodology--take a found photograph, do something to it, do something else to it--is an audaciously simple one, but it works. Stezaker, a British veteran of first-wave Conceptual art and the New Image group, has been enjoying something of a comeback, and his recent first exhibition at Friedrich Petzel made the revival seem entirely explicable, even overdue. Stezaker is a master of selection and presentation; his vision emerges all the stronger when he keeps evidence of his own hand to a minimum. That Matthew Higgs helped design the show's crisp installation makes perfect sense, since both artists have a clear-eyed aesthetic.

Of Stezaker's recent works, the most striking--and the best known in New York, following their inclusion in "Unmonumental" at the New Museum--are his "Film Portrait" collages, which he began in the 1980s. In each of these eerie cut-ups of vintage movie-actor headshots, a slice of one face is positioned atop a different whole shot, partially obscuring it, the two becoming a hybrid no less monstrous for the transparency of its origin. For most entries in the series, Stezaker retains the overlaid half-shot's original border, making no attempt to convincingly blend the two pictures. Yet far from disrupting the result's uncanny effect, this formal decision heightens our awareness of something having been removed and of something else having been hidden. When applied to so familiar a category of image, the sensation is profoundly unsettling.

Stezaker calls some of the collages "Marriages," meaning that they link two worlds, but in bringing together such disparate pairs, he hints at less harmonious relationships than the term generally implies. Male is fused with female and young with old, while the skewing of scale and perspective makes for all manner of freakish mutations. …

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