Exhibits By Julie Blackmon and Ellen von Unwerth at Fotografiska

30 Years of Photographing Women Ellen von Unwerth By Gail Worley
Image from Ellen von Unwerth’s Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women (All Photos By Gail)

If you live in the tri-state area and are on Instagram or FaceBook for even a few minutes a day, there is very little chance that you have not at least heard the name Fotografiska. Viral marketing ads for the NYC branch of this museum dedicated to modern photography were plastered all over social media for months prior to its opening to the public on December 14th, 2019. The cryptic ads featured dark, purple-shadowed images of the seven-story Gothic structure (built in 1892) housing the museum, which made it seem very mysterious and alluring. Everyone wanted to know: What the Hell is Fotografiska? Some people still can’t figure it out.

I finally had a chance to visit Fotografiska on March 5th, when I was invited to attend the opening reception for an exhibit by Julie Blackmon entitled Fever Dreams. One week after my visit, Fotografiska was forced to temporarily close its doors in compliance with New York State’s shelter-in-place order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Elevator Image Fotografiska By Gail Worley
Image By Ellen von Unwerth Inside an Elevator at Fotografiska

My original plan had been to post a review of the Julie Blackmon exhibit in mid-March, to coincided with the celebration of National Women’s Month. But like so many of us on the planet, my life is completely different now than it was three or four weeks ago, so that did not happen. An up-side of being stuck in the house without the ability to visit an art gallery, or museum or cultural institution of any kind is that I get to bring you my take on Art in the Time of Covid right here on The Gig. Even though you cannot currently visit these exhibits in person, you can ‘Live Through Me’ and enjoy the photos vicariously. I hope this post will give you a sweet taste of what’s inside Fotografiska that will get you excited to check out the place once it reopens. Better late than never.

Julie Blackmon Fever Dreams Photo By Gail Worley

This was my first ‘exposure,’ so to speak, to Julie Blackmon’s work, but I immediately fell in love with her hyper-realist style. Fever Dreams is a collection of images that brim with fantasy and subtle satire, capturing a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life. It’s not unusual for a gallery to stage an exhibit in dim lighting, but this one is designed to be viewed almost completely in the dark, save for a bit of light bleeding in from an adjacent gallery, and dedicated spotlights focused on each work. While the lack of lighting presented a challenge in capturing decent images of the photos, it definitely set an important mood, which enhanced the viewing experience.

Dandelion Puff By Gail Worley

Adding to the surreal vibe of Fever Dreams was the wall-to-wall astroturf covering the gallery floors, which included this singular artificial Dandelion Puff. You will understand in a minute why it was helpful to feel like you were standing in someone’s backyard.

Backyard Trailer Photo By Gail Worley

The playfully artful and chaotic nature present in the photographs of Julie Blackmon (b. 1966)  are drawn from the everyday people and places that have shaped the artist’s life. These are the familiar and ordinary scenes of Blackmon’s daily routine in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, which she describes as “the generic American town” in the middle of the United States.

Fever Dreams By Julie Blackmon Photograph By Gail Worley

Her scenes are often centered around children on their own in backyards, garages and neighborhoods where the absence of adults alludes to a looming potential for danger. Her photographs, otherwise innocuous domestic tableaux, are woven with fantasy and subtle satire that reflect a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life in suburbia.

Fever Dreams By Julie Blackmon Photo By Gail Worley

One my favorite photos in the collection is this scene of children watching a screening of The Sound Of Music in a backyard. To me, it has an almost post-apocalyptic feel. Blackmon carefully sets her scenes, and like film and theater directors, she is in pursuit of unscripted moments that provoke, disturb, and challenged the viewer. Some of the images reference paintings by Dutch Masters, French impressionist, and modernists such as Edward Hopper and Balthus, but they are updated with a satirical, penetrating eye and Blackmon’s belief that artful fiction can capture the truth more memorably than the truth itself.

Fever Dreams By Julie Blackmon Photo By Gail Worley

Speaking  of her work, Blackmon explains, “I suppose I could make a work where everything’s just perfect, where the sun is shining and mom is lying out in the grass and everything’s happening perfectly and the kids are happy . . . but that wouldn’t interest me — and it wouldn’t be truthful. My aim is to create a more nuanced, subtly humorous and satirical portrait of the way we live today.”

Fever Dreams By Julie Blackmon Photo By Gail Worley

Fever Dreams presents a selection of photographs from Blackmon’s Homegrown series as well as more recent works. It’s a fantastic exhibit and I hope its tenure at Fotografiska can be extended so that more people get to see it.

Story Continues, With More Photos, After the Jump!

Fotografiska Image in Stairwell By Gail Worley

After I walked through Fever Dreams I decided to explore the rest of the museum. Taking the stairs (rather than the elevator) between the three floors of gallery space is recommended (by me) as a good way to get your steps in and also discover more cools photography on each landing, like the image above of a cherry wearing a thong. Fun!

Ellen von Unwerth Exhibit Signage By Gail Worley

There were probably six different exhibits on view during my visit, but I especially enjoyed Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women by renowned German photographer Ellen von Unwerth. Even if you don’t recognize von Unwerth’s name, you know her work.

Its a Barbie World By Ellen von Unwerth Photo By Gail Worley

Devotion! explores von Unwerth’s provocative yet playful photography through seven expressions: Play, Gender, Drama, Love, Power, Passion, and Lust. Each image, characteristic of von Unwerth’s style, reflects lively, energetic, sensual style with a slight humorous touch. For the artist, it’s never about objectifying, rather, playing with archetypes and stereotypes, high and low, stirring emotions and creating commotion.

Keira Knightley and Her Sister Photo My Gail Worley
Keira Knightley and Her Sister

Here are a few my favorite photos from this very fun exhibit!

David Bowie and Kate Moss By EVW Photo By Gail Worley
David Bowie and Kate Moss

Liz Hurley By EVU Photo By Gail Worley
Elizabeth Hurley

EVU Installation View By Gail Worley

Installation Views

EVU Installation View By Gail Worley

Madonna By EVU Photo By Gail Wortley

This photograph of Madonna and some random dude took up an entire wall!

Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women By Ellen von Unwerth (originally scheduled to run through March 29th) and Fever Dreams by Julie Blackmon (originally scheduled to run through May 5th) may be extended once Fotografiska reopens to the public, but I would suggest you visit their Website prior to planning your visit, to see what exactly they will have in their galleries at that time. Fotografiska is located at 281 Park Avenue South and 22nd Street — right off the 6 Train — in Manhattan.

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