Trine Søndergaard’s portraiture never gets boring or predictable. If you know the Monochrome Portraits, you’re sure to get surprised by Strude, on view at Bruce Silverstein gallery (until June 26, 2010). When I walked into the gallery, I thought the photographer had engaged in some sort of conceptual art, wrapping people in scarves and putting hats on them. In fact, only today did I realize that what I thought was conceptual art in reality is the “the mask-like garment that was worn by women on the Danish island of Fanø to cover their faces from the wind, sun and sand.” (quoted from the press release). Well, there’s something for art critics to ponder (who might put off reading the often insufferable Chelsea press releases until the last minute) - and for those who think that if it looks weird - or at least unusual - it has got to be modern art. (more)
The origin of the various garments that partially or almost fully cover the heads of Søndergaard’s subjects notwithstanding, my general impression of the work has not changed since I learned about its background. The first thing I noted when walking through the exhibition was that some of the prints were too large. What does it matter, you might wonder, or who am I to argue about the artist’s choices? But for almost all photographs there is an ideal size (or maybe a range of sizes), where if you deviate the image suddenly loses a lot of its appeal. I find it impossible to explain why that is (I’m tempted to make an analogy involving suits, but maybe that’s for another time). For me, the bigger prints in this show clearly are too big, whereas the smaller ones are just perfect.
Remembering my first impressions seeing the work… I think what contributed to making me think it was some sort of conceptual art was the poses the photographer used. In some cases, the results are incredibly beautiful (here’s an image that I remember vividly). Other cases - like this one - I thought were just not very convincing at all. In Strude, the garment is given center stage, but I am not sure that works in all cases(ethnographers/anthropologists might disagree). The photographs I ended up liking a lot were portraits of people wearing some dress I wasn’t familiar with, the photographs I didn’t like where those of some dress I wasn’t familiar with that happened to contain a person.
That all said, Strude is not to be missed, given that the good portraits are so unbelievably good.