Esko Mannikko: Yancey Richardson Gallery
Bryan-Wilson, Julia, Artforum International
For his recent exhibition "Cocktails," Finnish photographer Esko Mannikko installed a selection of works from the past fifteen years, intermingling images of animals living and dead, aging Finnish bachelors, ramshackle interiors, and border life in southern Texas. But the show, the artist's first in the US since 1997, was less eclectic than this list of subjects might imply--the images were drawn together by Mannikko's social-documentary interest in rural dilapidation as well as by his project's formal coherence, particularly its emphasis on deep, saturated color.
The photographs, presented in beat-up old wooden frames, which the artist selects to complement each image, were hung cheek by jowl, and this close physical proximity further implied the thematic and conceptual intimacy between them. Marco, 1998, for example, which depicts a young boy whose creased forehead is echoed by the folds of his dirty shorts, was hung beside Sheep?, 1999, a chipped statue of a winged, angelic lion. The conjunction was visually arresting, yet with its emphasis on dignity in the face of neglect, it also teetered on the threshold of sentimentality. Grouped together to convey a loose narrative, Mannikko's photos are rooted in place--the artist usually spends considerable time with his subjects before he photographs them--while their aesthetic of outmoded, ruined beauty also crosses national boundaries. Whether he's shooting in Texas or in Finland, he reveals the world to be covered not with a net of high-tech cables but with skeins of peeling paint, matted fur, and broken glass. Nonetheless, regionally specific features from the small US flag in an abandoned storefront in Happy?, 1997, to the Scandinavian Christmas decor depicted in Kuivaniemi, 1991, retain their sense of belonging to a unique location.
Mannikko is fond of symmetry, and often composes his images so that one's attention is drawn to the exact center. …