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Extreme contrast – William Larson and Phillip Toledano at Gallery 339


On entering Gallery 339, currently hosting work by William Larson and Phillip Toledano, your first sight is of an array of white panels, each adorned with a print of bold swaths of color and filmstrips. William Larson’s exhibition The Cut is the latest iteration of the legendary photographer’s lifelong study of the ways in which recording motion and time can be altered. Upstairs, Phillip Toledano’s series, A New Kind of Beauty, examines the often extreme measures people will go to for physical beauty.

William Larson Series: “The Cut /” from original film: Knife in the Water, 2010 Archival Pigment Print 31 x 24 inches; Edition of 5; $5,500 – $10,000

A large crowd was drawn to the November 18 opening reception, in equal measure by Larson, who is known for creating the undergraduate and graduate photography programs at the Tyler School of Art, and by Toledano, whose charisma and interest in how people define themselves inform A New Kind of Beauty. Both artists have previously shown their work at Gallery 339, Larson as part of the Philadelphia Masters series from November 2007 to March 2008, and Toledano for his series Days With My Father, from September through November 2010.

William Larson, Series: “The Cut /” from original film: The Cabinet, 2010 – 31 x 24 inches; Edition of 5; $5,500 – $10,000. Archival pigment print.

Larson has painstakingly culled the images in The Cut from industrial and feature films, including classics such as King Kong and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Each of the works was created using archival pigment print on canvas, capturing moments from the film where visual continuity is broken. Moments that are recognizable, even iconic, in the original films are shown in still-photography form to reveal surprising emotions, facial expressions and new perspectives on the source material.

William Larson, still from “Serif: A Memoir.”

The artist’s skill for disrupting the momentum of a film in order to create new narrative possibilities is also evident in “Serif,” his thirteen-minute film memoir, displayed in the back room of the gallery’s first floor. All the images and clips chosen for “Serif” allude to formative experiences in his life, although the piece itself is a cipher. Images such as an antique camera being uncovered and re-covered and children in stock or found footage are key to what Larson refers to as his “biographical topography.”

Phillip Toledano Allanah, 2008 Digital C-Print 40 x 30 inches; Edition of 6; Starting at $2750 60 x 50 inches; Edition of 3; Starting at $4500

In the upstairs gallery the atmosphere is unsettling. Toledano has long been skilled at expressing the more grandiose tendencies of human nature; his CV includes projects such as Kim Jong Phil, a series featuring the photographer’s face superimposed onto portraits and sculptures of infamous dictators as a commentary on the similarity between artists and dictators. The pieces from Toledano’s A New Kind of Beauty are chiaroscuro portraits of people who have undergone major cosmetic surgery; the portraits, done on digital c-print, are each beautiful and yet disturbing. As I looked at the prints, I realized that the modifications to faces and bodies were so extensive that in many cases it was difficult to tell what the real emotions were under the surface, challenging the viewer to think deeply about what prompted the subjects’ choices. Toledano’s book, also titled A New Kind of Beauty, indicates that this was a conscious choice.

Phillip Toledano Steve, 2008 Digital C-Print 40 x 30 inches; Edition of 6; Starting at $2750 60 x 50 inches; Edition of 3; Starting at $4500

“Toledano surrounds his subjects with grace and balance yet does not offer much in the way of an empathic way in, or out, either,” writes W.M. Hunt in the book, which is available to browse in the gallery. Viewers are alienated by the images at the same time that they are drawn in by the subjects’ desire to craft bold new identities for themselves.

The two exhibitions differ vastly in subject matter and intent; the contrast of nostalgia (Larson) and displacement (Toledano) is powerful.

Phillip Toledano, “Yvette,” 2008. Digital C-Print. 40 x 30 inches; Edition of 6; Starting at $2750. 60 x 50 inches; Edition of 3; Starting at $4500