Jenny Gage

By Richard, Frances | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Jenny Gage


Richard, Frances, Artforum International


LUHRING AUGUSTINE

A dark-haired figure leans against a car, her long mane streaming sideways in the breeze, the word "Racing" stamped on her baby blue tank top over her heart. Another girl--or perhaps the same one--stands before a window, pulling back the floral drapes with one hand; a strobelike flash of sunshine obscures her face. Moodily lit and suggestively cropped, the large-format color photographs in Jenny Gage's second solo exhibition in New York offered a smooth mix of verite and voyeurism, a theater of received ideas about the fragility and unattainability of girls from the wrong side of some southern California tracks. The "Ventura" series (all works 1998-2000) positions its subjects as characters in an implied film, everywoman starlets whose identities need not be known, since they are already monumentally overdetermined.

According to press materials, Gage, who grew up in suburban LA. first noticed the Ventura girls sitting in a pickup truck parked on a back road. She has followed them intermittently for two years, though the images deliberately avoid the cliquishness and implied mutual trust of Nan Goldin-esque portraiture. The link between the artist and her subjects, however, remains central to the function of these images. Like some other young female photographers today (her Yale dassmate Anna Gaskell, Dana Hoey, Justine Kurland, et al.), Gage is evolving a sort of feminist mannerism, a seamless amalgam of commercial and documentary techniques in which the gamine, always already commodified, is retooled as a supreme blend of empty icon and knowing autobiographer. The tough-pretty waifs who engage Gage's gaze betray almost nothing about themselves. They are, intentionally, all veneer. The prints' surfaces are glossy without being hard-edged; color is saturated rather than bright, and camera angles are intimate without bei ng friendly. Psychic and emotional investment is suggested by attention to small details of clothing, jewelry, and decor, but these markers of individualism continually flatten, returning the girls to their fundamental status as rebuses for "desire," "danger," "pathos," "seduction. …

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