ALEX PRAGER: Where We Went From There

© 2010 Alex Prager
Alex Prager (American, born 1979) Desiree from the series The Big Valley. 2008. Chromogenic color print, 36 x 48 1/2" (91.4 x 123.2 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of the Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Linda and Gregory Fischbach, and William S. Susman and Emily Glasser © 2010 Alex Prager, courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery

There are moments throughout the history of art, when, marveling at the latest aesthetic affront, the public, the critics, and even fellow artists have thrown up their hands and asked, “Where can we possibly go from here?”

And as art has grown ever more referential and every medium, self-referential— when there is nary an image that does not lay claim to a legacy of irony that is now generations deep: well: what can possibly come next?

Answer: Alex Prager.


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The Alex Prager photograph which headlines the MoMA‘s upcoming New Photography 2010 show, features a girl lying on a bed, doll-like, hair spread out, smoking a cigarette.

The angle makes her look spied upon, but the pose is pointedly staged.

The colors are saturated, lurid, one might say; you might think it’s a still from a movie, or a perhaps a page torn out of the Fashion of the Times (or off the cover of the latest JCrew catalog).

It is neither of those but one of many super sexy trope-portraits by the artist Alex Pager. I coined ‘trope-portrait’ just for Prager’s work which otherwise defies category. These are, after all, not pictures of women, but of tropes. They are a shorthand for the images of stereo-types of women. They are kinds of women.

And they are not the almost kitschy narratives by Cindy Sherman that they most definitely refer to. Sherman was also referring to movie tropes, but not so much kinds of women as mythologies, or stories of women.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills, 1979; Metro Pictures

They are certainly not the over-the-top camp of David LaChapelle from whence their color and vibrancy has taken a hint, nor the flat-out appropriations of Richard Prince, though they make sure to be just a balls out unapologetic.

Prager has done away with wit and cleverness, she has tossed aside the imagination — abandoned the postmodern mantle of irony even– and yet manages to score big with critics and fans because her flat-footed use of reference and her super saturated colors produce images that come equipped with hundreds of talking poins, and, face it,  keen wall power.

It’s hands-down pretty stuff and you can’t help but like it.

© 2010 Alex Prager
Alex Prager (American, born 1979) Despair. 2010. Chromogenic color print, 16 x 20" (40.6 x 50.8 cm) Courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery © 2010 Alex Prager, courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery

Anyway, we grew up with girls who don’t know they’re being watched.

The tragic movie queens and teens, abundant of hair and lashes dotted with tears. How many pictures spring to mind?

The girls in the ads who jump for joy at nothing and run across the streets in the rain after imaginary cabs.

She’s smoking now, looking far away; she’s crying now, the world in her diamond eyes.

And she’s troubled now, danger music mounting; she breaks a heel, mid-flight.

If you make sure her clothes tell a story, she’ll not have to speak and ruin it all.

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