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Eric Fischl, NA and David Salle at Skarstedt

  • Skarstedt 20 East 79th Street New York, NY (map)

At First Glance: Fischl Sculptures and Salle Photographs
February 21st, 2019 to April 20th, 2019

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As prolific painters, Eric Fischl and David Salle are most immediately known for their works on canvas. However, the medium of sculpture for Eric Fischl (b. 1948) and photography for David Salle (b. 1952) contribute not only to their respective oeuvres but also provide a window into their individual artistic practices, focus and use of the human body, and their unique understanding and exploration of the gesture.

First exhibited at the Robert Miller Gallery, New York in 1991, Salle’s suite of 58 black and white photographs, taken between 1980 and 1990, are studies of female nudes initially made as reference images for his paintings. Salle’s primary concern was with the effects of light and shadow on the body – the kinds of visual information that could be translated into paint. Seen at the end of a decade’s work, the photographs began to take on a life of their own as stand-alone art works and have since been recognized for their unique contribution to the history of figure photography, as well as their place in Salle’s oeuvre. The photographs represent a long-term collaboration between the artist and the same few models, who, over a period of years, worked closely with him to craft a vocabulary of poses of great immediacy as well as intimacy. The photographs are a record of a kind of performance; using a variety of props and costumes, sometimes whatever was at hand, the models move, contort, extend, and position themselves in concert with the staged lighting, creating unique dramas of light and shadow. Whether somber, playful, sexual, mysterious or melancholic, the photographs individually hint at their own narrative, yet are unified in the artist’s mise en scène. The work was considered shocking when first exhibited in 1991 and has not ceased to be so. In his essay on the works, Henry Geldzahler writes, “The raw, assertive sexuality in these photographs on first view can shock. On subsequent viewings the shock recedes, and we are left to contemplate genuine tenderness and stunning formal invention” (Henry Geldzahler, David Salle: Photographs, 1991, p. 8). Acting as a reference point for many of his works on canvas, Salle’s photographs are also interwoven within his paintings in the form of silkscreens, insets or other elements of collage. There is another seldom noted dynamic at work in these photographs. Though not nearly as exposed as the models, paradoxically, by uncovering his process and formal investigations behind the camera and by committing to the intimacy and performative nature of the model/photographer relationship, the artist is also exposed. Upon seeing the photographs, artist Sherrie Levine stated “I had the idea that they were pictures of a man looking at a woman looking at a man… His are pictures that posit a man’s consciousness in relation to a woman’s consciousness” (Sherrie Levine, Flash Art, 1981).

Experimenting with the medium to reinvigorate his approach to painting, Fischl created his first sculptures in the late 1990’s. Upon observing a series of photographs he had taken in Southern France, Fischl noticed his familiarity with the people in his images extended only to what the image captured, a man’s back, a woman’s profile, and so took to creating these characters in clay. From that point, Fischl took photographs of his sculptures to then use as references for paintings. Initially serving as a step within a convoluted artistic process, sculpture for Fischl only later became a way to understand gesture and use the human form as a vessel for expression. Fischl explains the nuance sculpture offers in pose and posture, form and abstraction, stating, “A body posed is really about abstraction. It is about formalism and not about emotions or psychology. Posture is quite different. The posture one’s body assumes carries with it all the memories of its experiences. These memories bend, twist, stiffen, and overemphasize” (Eric Fischl, in an interview with Ealan Wingate, Eric Fischl: Sculpture, 1998, p. 4).

At first glance, the sculptures and photographs in this exhibition elicit a reaction from the viewer, which upon further contemplation become complexly layered by the conceptual, physical, and visceral. Salle’s dramatic use of light, shadow, and the female nude, as well as Fischl’s Rodin-esque approach to texture and the human body, compel the viewer to glance, over and over again, in an effort to decipher and negotiate the fluid boundaries between form and content.

Courtesy of Skarstedt.

Earlier Event: February 20
Siah Armajani, NA, at Met Breuer
Later Event: February 21
Richard Kalina, NA: Future Perfect