through October 18
This exhibition is Duane Michals first at Stephen Bulger Gallery. Works included were drawn from his nearly 50-year career. Though Michals describes himself as self-taught, he did have on and off training in the arts as a teenager at the Carnegie Institute in watercolor, and as a young man at Parsons School of Design in graphic design. His studies were neither formal nor complete, but it is likely they spurred his interest and aptitude in the arts.
Michals is known for challenging the photographic media, its construction, means, and nature. The images on view with Bulger belong to two main groups: portraits or actions accompanied by text, some in sequence, and found-images embellished with oil paint. Both veins of work let interior qualities out and encourage us to wonder on deeper levels about the image that confronts us. Many of the text-accompanied images are of famous artists. We find the subjects at home or in the studio; in either case they are in their element, and we are allowed an intimate view of a perhaps otherwise untouchable art-history icon. The works are humanizing and honest. They can be almost uncomfortably revealing; its as if we are able through Michals' frames to enter the subject's soul. In an image of Willem de Kooning (1985) we find the artist before his canvas, contemplating his next stroke. We are positioned watchfully over his shoulder, and can feel the tension and pressure of the creative process at work. Andy Warhol is a reoccurring figure in this exhibition, and in a vertical triple-portrait Andy Warhol (1972) we again sense the torment that bubbles up in the artist's soul. The first portrait is solum and straight-on; the two accompanying shots are blurred by motion as Michals snaps the frames while Andy shakes his head from side to side and his visage distorts.
In the latter string of images, the found-frames with oil paint, we find Michals' simple geometric additions to be playful and encouraging of open-ended narratives. The works elevate beyond the portrait and simple shapes may allude to games, desires, struggles, or dreams. It is the viewer who decides how to apply meaning to a grid, a ladder, a dot-pattern, and so on. Michals works remind us that viewing is subjective; that the "museum image" need not be "neat;" and that the artist's hand can make the work both approachable and expansive.
For more information on this exhibition, or to view the works online, please visit Stephen Bulger Gallery.