This week’s Weekly has my review of the Yale MFA photo show at Gallery 339. Below is the copy with some photos. Also in this week’s print version of the paper is last week’s story about the Robot 250 project in Pittsburgh.
Yale’s M.F.A. program in photography is known for turning out artists who specialize in stagey, inscrutable film-noir hyper-realism focused on scenes of societal or domestic dysfunction. Gregory Crewdson, himself a perpetrator of X-Files-like drama photos, is the Yale prof who makes such a heavy imprint.
But for every rule there’s an exception. The work of this year’s Yale M.F.A. photo grads—as seen in a show at Gallery 339—is less Hollywood drama-driven than quiet and inner-fueled. The scale is modest and the ambience is sad and sweet throughout.
Included in the nine-artist show—a smaller version of the students’ M.F.A. thesis exhibit that showed previously at Yale and in New York at Danziger Projects—is born-again Philadelphian Sarah Stolfa, whose large-scale color portraits of McGlinchey’s bar customers made a big splash a few years back. It’s always interesting to see what effect schooling has on an artist, and Stolfa, who’s in the 339 stable, is showing some great landscape photos and an interior in which portraiture has expanded from the extreme close-up on facial characteristics and gestures to a more narrative approach to people and their surroundings.
Like several artists in the show, Stolfa’s works come from a road trip around the country during which she took photos of friends as well as of complete strangers. One remarkable photo of a light-filled bedroom in Athens, Ala., is a puzzle that slowly unfolds. As details add up, you realize the art-bedecked room also contains a hospital bed and medical apparatus and belongs to someone bed-ridden. The person is tucked under a blanket and all but hidden, and this “I am my room” portrait could be set in an institution and not what looks to be an ordinary bedroom in a house.
Jen Davis’ shots of men, boys and a cowboy—all tinged with macho posturing that feels real and unprovoked—are the artist’s chronicle of “the other.” Davis, whose self-portraits of her plus-sized body are well known (some were shown in Philadelphia in 2003 in the group show “Self-Centered” at CFEVA) also shows a self-portrait in the shower that’s a knock-out.
Marley White’s portraits of her father and several playful works of a cat, a sailboat and a historical reenactor are cheerfully disturbing. White’s subject is perception and the human psyche. In an untitled work that evokes Jeff Wall’s darkly weird setups, White captures her father cataloging his Tic Tac box collection. The man’s intensity is palpable as he bends to his task of organizing the empty plastic boxes. The scene in the tidy, tchotchke-filled study raises issues of obsession and family dynamics. Her photo of a gray-and-white cat licking a small porcelain figurine of a gray-and-white cat is a chuckle about what’s real.
Suyeon Yun’s photos come from a road trip during which she focused on the effects of war on ordinary people. Crabmeat, Boulder, Colo., is an almost perfect picture of family dysfunction. A family sits around the dinner table in what looks like a comfortable suburban home, but one young girl is disaffected and reading a book while the mother is speaking to another child who’s pouting, and the father is the only one eating happily as if nothing is wrong.
Also great in a wonderful show of personally fueled works that explore the world of I, you, we and they are Sasha Rudensky, Bradley Peters, Samantha Contis, Richard Mosse and Bryan Graf.
Stolfa, by the way, has moved back to Philadelphia and brought her classmate Marley White with her. As gallerist Martin McNamara explained, the artists figured they could have gone to New York and been waitresses and tried to be artists. But they knew if they came to Philadelphia they could be artists and try to make something happen for themselves.
“Sarah became the ultimate PR person for Philly trying to get all her classmates to come here,” McNamara said. Can’t give her any flack for that.
“Yale M.F.A. Photography 2008”
Through Sept. 6. Free.
339 S. 21st St.