It's been raining for the past three days here in Sào Paulo. I have just finished installing my exhibition at Mendes Wood, a wonderful gallery here in the Jardins area. The show is called companions and it's my first solo show with the gallery. The work is in a beautiful irregular polygon gallery with one wall of glass. It is a beautiful space. I'm very thrilled with the show. In addition to the treat of having the show, I'm so fortunate that the gallery is having an exhibition of photographs by Francesca Woodman. This is the first time the work has been seen in South America. It is a major event and the number of people, collectors, and artists who have come in just for a look has been electric.
(I've provided a link to the SFMOMA Woodman retrospective. Reproductions, online and printed, almost always misrepresent the size of the prints and their relationship to frames and matting. I've included an installation picture for a better idea of the scale.)
The show officially opens tomorrow but there has been a steady stream of people anxious for a look at the photos. Their excitement has rekindled mine. I've seen this work for a long time, but the installation here is quite compelling. Mendes Wood's gallery is a white cube but the ceiling has pointed rafters that that add a sense of place to the studied "neutrality" of the white box, as if an attic loft was exposed. It looks a bit like a reclaimed chapel. They gallerists have also chosen frames that have a hint of red wood coloring for the 20+ prints in the show. This tiny pulse of color animates the pictures, which is good. There have been too many sepulchral presentations of Woodman and in my opinion. This exhibition shows a young woman changing before our eyes, in the act of finding and becoming herself.
The show is pretty chronological. There are representative images from most of the bodies of work (unfortunately, none of Woodman's exquisite cyanotypes are here) and there are some of the canonical images. Far and away my favorites are the photos where the body of the artist is used to expose and explain space and spaces. These pictures to me have always seemed like a fever dream, palpable and hallucinogenic. And like those dreams one tries to make sense of them to no avail. I'm less interested in why Woodman does what she does and more interested in the fact that she does it. When she crawls or floats or blends or reshapes her body she posits a world without boundaries of materiality. Is she crawling into that cabinet or turning into it? Is she kneeling on the mirror of floating out of it? In a pre-Photoshop world, she makes us ask "How did she do that?" I am sure that there are sophisticated technical reasons for the way the photos look (and Woodman is a master of them), but that isn't the real "how" of my question. And figuring out techniques is not what keeps me staring at the photos. What I am asking is, in truth, how did she become lighter than air? How did she become a shadow?
Her craft is in service to a vision that feels very contemporary. In a world where gender is fluid, boundaries are permeable, and borders are contested, it's exciting to see a young artist exploring and exposing those limits with her own body.
FRANCESCA WOODMAN Mendes Wood Rua da Consolação, 3358, Jardins, Sao Paulo, Brazil June 23 – July 21, 2012