Magazine article Artforum International

Rhona Bitner: CRG Gallery. (New York)

Magazine article Artforum International

Rhona Bitner: CRG Gallery. (New York)

Article excerpt

There's not much clowning around in Rhona Bitner's recent Big Top photographs, even if her circus people are not lugubrious like Picasso's or tortured like Bruce Nauman's. Aside from a few largescale formal portraits, somewhat reminiscent of those painted by Walt Kuhn, the images here were small action shots taken from the audience's perspective. In these, single figures (or occasionally small groups) captured in midmovement or at the climax of a pose appear isolated and luminous, spotlighted in pitch-dark surroundings: A man spins the wheels of a bicycle as it seems to climb an invisible 6o-degree hill; another hangs agonizingly upside down from a pole; a third, elderly man focuses every ounce of his attention on a ball he's juggling (all works untitled). Bitner's female performers have a different kind of aplomb. The artful contortions of one, hanging by one hand and a knee from two suspended rings, possess an incomprehensible rectilinearity, as if she were competing for a position in that Erte alphabet of which Roland Barthes once wrote. Elsewhere, by contrast, a woman in a white harem getup wields a swirling ribbon that contradicts the availability her costume suggests by defining a circular zone of force around her.

Bitner roamed Europe and the United States to find these scenes, though you'd never know it; the photographs don't give any sense of different companies or cultures. Her subject is something beyond such particulars: that quasi-mythical or archetypal pantheon, The Circus. …

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