Elisa Sighicelli and Jan Groover

I happened to see for the first time, the work of Elisa Sighicelli at Cohan and Leslie which concludes this Saturday.

Sighicelli’s photographs immediately perplex: the  large format multi paneled work  appears to be at once a reflective print and a light box installation. To my mind, most gallery light box installations appear to be troublingly similar to airport advertising displays, but Sighicelli  avoids that association, Her images are mostly lit from the gallery track lighting. By selectively opaqueing the back of her images, she allows only selected transmission of the light box’s illumination through the photographic print medium.  By doing this, she has altered the expressive range of the shadows and highlights in her work. The results are highlights that truly glow.

Technique aside, her studies of conference rooms and other banal interiors show a formal sensibility and a disorienting point of view. She appears to approach an interior subject as if it were a landscape. Where the foreground of a landscape would recede from the bottom of the picture frame, receding in perspective to form the horizon at some point upon the frame, Sighicelli regards a table top in the same way. She places her camera lens  upon the table surface which in effect makes the table top the “ground” and the back edge of the table becomes the horizon. As the table tops are shiny, the the image of objects in the background  merge with their reflections within the table. Sighicelli focuses her camera at the back of the photographic space, and this, too increasingly dematerializes the photographic illusion  by rendering her foregrounds out of focus.  This artist began with inert, unprepossessing subject matter, but with intelligence and invention, she has created engaging and transformative work. Ask to see the monograph(s) of her work at the gallery counter.

At the same show, Sighicelli exhibited work based on appropriated imagery. Selecting small portions of  XV & XVI century Sienese painting, she crops out the figures and main subjects of these paintings, presenting  the edited results as a light box. The idea that within a larger pictorial composition one can find and excerpt another composition has little conceptual payoff. Doubtless, that strategy could yet again be applied to her  work, and where would the process stop? Compared to  Sighicelli’s landscape and interior works, these do little more than revisit a tired post modern conceit.

Jan Groover at Janet Borden, 560 Broadway, 212 431 0166. January.

A selection of Groover’s late 1970’s Kitchen Sink Still Life images look great in the small catalog sent by the gallery. The Show opens next week. When seeing Groover’s work in the mid 70’s I was most excited the photographs that explored the spatial interrelationships between adjacent photographs. Seeing her triptychs of architecture brought to mind many considerations about space and illusion. By placing a spatial and planar illusion contained within one photograph adjacent to the that of another two frames, Groover was able to create a push pull of space across the span of three frames.

There had been artists constructing assemblages of multiple photographs before, on one front Ray Metzker, and on the other Jan Dibbetts. Groover’s work seemed to nestle between  these two practitioners. Surprisingly, Groover seemed to retreat into her home, and produced a series of still-life photographs of plant leaves and kitchen utensils.  At the time, the images appeared to be a throwback to some of the traditional still-life images of Strand or Weston, without the rigorous formalism.  More obviously they played with reflective surfaces of silverware and the colors that could be captured within the metallic surfaces. All of these objects are cluttering the same frame, and while we should expect to  see  how the elements sit in space relative to each other, Instead, what we see happening is a complex negation of representational space. Completely filling her picture frame with  plant leaves, butter knife blades and other kitchen hardware, the compositions become collage like. There is a transcendent moment when these images exceed simple compositional exercise. Objects in the foreground appear to drop behind objects that we know to be in the background. Surfaces become depths, and depth appears to be flat.

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