British artist John Stezaker at Rosenwald-Wolf

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The moodiness of collage nearly overwhelms the show of work by John Stezaker at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery in his show The Nude and Landscape. But then the sharpness of Stezaker’s intelligence and eye pull it back from the brink, seducing with beauty, complexities, surprises and ideas.

John Stezaker, Pursuit V from the 3rd Person Series, 2011 collage, 5th of 7 parts, 7.9 x 5.4 inches (includes mat); actual image is about an inch!

Stezaker had a recent solo show at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, and he shows at Petzel in New York. (Friedrich Petzel himself was at the sparsely attended opening at Rosenwald-Wolf. Perhaps it was the rain that accounted for the low turnout).

To put this another way, if you’re in a rush, this is not the show for you. But if you have a little time to visit with the work here and get up close and personal, you will be rewarded, not because you have to know so much and be a big art history buff, but rather because this work offers visual and intellectual puzzles based on the ordinary visual culture of our civilization–magazines, photos and newspapers.

John Stezaker, Underworld XVI, 2011, collage, 9.1 x 10 inches

Once I got past the sad undertext of all collage–reused materials, previously rejected and remaindered–I found trippy worlds reimagined. There’s a challenge Stezaker sets for his viewers, and I can’t help but think he’s a bit of a cranky person. But I sure did like these not-quite-friendly collages.

My favorite piece was a series of seven collages (see top image), although calling them collages is a sly trick. The images are simply stamp-size cut-outs from larger images. Each cut out is a single, intact rectangle glued in the center of an approximately 8″ tall mat board.  The images highlight tiny figures in action excised from some corner or background of larger images–the things we rarely pay attention to as our editing eyes and minds focus in on the main subject. The line-up of seven suggests a cinematic storyboard, with a mysterious tale to tell of something momentous about to happen.

John Stezaker, Underworld XV, 2011, collage, 7.1 x 9.9 inches

In an equally puckish approach, Stezaker does a double Duchamp reference in using a ready-made, an old travel postcard, which he presents unaltered. By naming it Nymph, he turns a landscape with a waterfall into a bit of erotica that seems to reference Duchamp’s Étant donnés.

In Underworld XV, a single slice joins pieces of two different landscapes. The upper half, however is an inverted view of land, confusing the eye’s expectation of horizon and sky. Puzzling out the what and the why and the where is pretty wonderful!

John Stezaker, Fall X, 2009, collage, 8.3 x 5.5 inches

The male-female nude mashups might have been more fun if I hadn’t seen similar work from Philadelphia photographer Paul Cava previously.

 

Exhibit Oct. 13 to Nov. 19, 2011
Monday – Thursday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday: CLOSED
Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery
333 S. Broad St.
215 717 6480

Tags

collage, friedrich petzel gallery, john stezaker, rosenwald-wolf gallery, whitechapel gallery

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