Yvonne Todd: Creamy Psychology

By Patrick, Martin | Afterimage, March-April 2015 | Go to article overview

Yvonne Todd: Creamy Psychology


Patrick, Martin, Afterimage


Yvonne Todd: Creamy Psychology

CITY GALLERY WELLINGTON

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

DECEMBER 6, 2014-MARCH 1, 2015

Two of Wellington's public galleries devoted the entirety of their respective spaces to solo exhibitions by New Zealand artists this year, an exceedingly rare occurrence. The most recent of these ventures is the City Gallery's Creamy Psychology, a formidably detailed and cohesive mid-career retrospective of the photographer Yvonne Todd. Todd has enjoyed much support in the past decade or so, particularly since becoming the first recipient of the country's prestigious Walters Prize in 2002, judged that year by the venerable curator Harald Szeemann, who said Todd's was "the work that irritated me the most." (1) (The other major solo show in Wellington featured Simon Denny, Berlin-based nominee for the prize in 2012 and last year.) Todd's images take their initial cue from the tropes of commercial portrait photography, but tangle with an eclectic range of cultural phenomena derived from diverse sources along the way.

Todd consistently treads a fine line between the grotesque and the glamorous, seeking to acknowledge the close, almost dialectical, relationship between the two. While her works generally take the form of large-scale, immaculately presented color prints, Todd is fascinated with states of unease, from eating disorders to crippling infirmities, as well as with subcultural groups, from fundamentalists to vegans. Todd has an avid fan's interest in popular culture, most often anachronistic and American, which also speaks to how many New Zealanders before the ubiquity of broadband internet engaged with a culture industry generated thousands of miles away, and accessed largely through television, cinema, and magazines.

Todd's women (her subjects are almost exclusively female) are often depicted as girl-children with glazed-over expressions--photographic Stepford beings occupying some nether region between the studio setup and the suburban locale. She is intrigued by the toll taken by the unrealistic expectations of celebrity culture, both on celebrities themselves, and on the mere mortals who fantasize about them. Narratives around Christina Onassis, JonBenet Ramsey, Karen Carpenter, and "Sybil," infamous for her sixteen distinct personalities, provide inspirational fuel for Todd's imagery. In Cheer (2001), six women's heads are viewed from behind, floating on a dark background, their carefully configured ponytails and elaborately plaited braids adorned with ribbons, giving us more than enough information to construct our own path through this oblique typological portrait/still life. …

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