Nora Salzman’s showcase of display at TSA

Nora Salzman’s first solo show at Tiger Strikes Asteroid is as much an experiment in curation and display as the art objects themselves. In “Studies and Specimens,” Salzman expertly constructs one centrally located cabinet which houses two opposing bodies of work – one three dimensional, the other painted. Both are based on the human form, but otherwise seem as if they were drawn from two entirely different collections.

A view of Nora Salzman's display case and portraits as part of "Studies and Specimens."
A view of Nora Salzman’s display case and portraits as part of “Studies and Specimens.”

Salzman merges traditional concepts with distinctly contemporary aesthetic elements

One side of the Plexiglas-laden structure in the middle of the gallery includes portraits of a man painted onto a series of panels. These views depict the male figure in a number of poses and hues. The colors range from completely desaturated black and white images to true-color skin tones with the occasional accent of violet or blue. An otherwise mundane splash of green hues glowing behind the man in the farthest right image stands out as the only real concentration of pigment in the show that strays much farther than black, white, or Caucasian-peach.

A closeup of some of Salzman's portraits, including the splash of green.
A closeup of some of Salzman’s portraits, including the splash of green.

The portraits all possess the feel of computer self shots or smart phone captures. Their true origin goes unmentioned, but whether or not Salzman began with digital images is unimportant; the ubiquity of web-based images forces us into general acceptance of their earnestness and context in the present. A couple of white strands on the subject’s hoodie could easily be iPod earbuds, and a double-take is necessary to confirm that they are not.

While a few more traditionally inspired paintings may seem apropos for an exhibit emphasizing museum fixtures, they would also seem dishonest in a space like Tiger. Salzman appropriately finds a midpoint between traditional portraiture and contemporary art instead, toeing the line between haute and hipster.

The anatomical casts on the flip side of the display case.
The anatomical casts on the flip side of the display case.

Walking around to the flip side of the display case, one is confronted by a dissection table of three-dimensional anatomical casts – pieces that would seem more at home in a natural history museum than an art collection. A pair of forearms, two shins with their attached feet, and a mask-like, eyeless face reside behind the transparent cover, resembling a taxidermy workshop or institutional biology lesson. Tiny brackets and a white, head-shaped rest hold the parts in place without detracting from their forms or their visibility. The display case, in other words, exists as an invisible frame for the art contained within.

One of Salzman's arm casts, revealing the minimal fixtures which hold the art.
One of Salzman’s arm casts, revealing the minimal fixtures which hold the art.

For Salzman, display is of equal importance to the art itself

The structure of the display case itself is both stable and effective. The craftsmanship of the components is clean and exact, revealing an attention to detail that moves beyond the art objects themselves and into the strange and overlooked arena of design that is not meant to be noticed. Curiously enough, Salzman makes this nebulous practice her focal point – and with apparent zeal at that. Perhaps only a venue such as this could effectively showcase a show of showcases, and the artist embraces this seriously self-referential theme unironically.

Vessels for art presentation are not unlike the bread of a sandwich, and Salzman seems adamant that a delicious brie wouldn’t pair too well with Wonder Bread.

The sum of all parts is what makes for a powerful exhibit, and to neglect the artistry of display in the rush to glamorizing the art itself prevents us from seeing the complete picture. The National Gallery surely doesn’t thumbtack its collection wantonly to the walls, and it is wise for living, working artists to exercise similar care and precision in their own displays.

Nora Salzman’s “Studies and Specimens” is a true eye-opener with regard to exposition and arrangement, and it makes a bold statement merely by looking as if nothing is out of place.

Studies and Specimens will be on view at Tiger Strikes Asteroid through May 26.