Surprisingly, this marvelous exhibition was Sarah Charlesworth’s first museum show in New York. Considered one of the Pictures Generation artists (via Conceptualism), Charlesworth was engaged, she said of her photo-based works, “with a problem rather than a medium.” Although others saw the medium as once removed from reality, she regarded it as “something real,” the “dominant language of contemporary culture.” Perfectly calibrated, this show probed the deceptions and conventions of photography, adding and subtracting information, letting it all flow through ten series, from her early photojournalistic ventures through her later studio tableaux.
The “Modern History” series, started in 1977, was the opener, with photographs of front pages revealing the biases of the press through variations on the same images. “Stills,” from 1980, are big, grainy, gray images of bodies, real or not, hurtling through space—looking different to us post-9/11 than to contemporaneous viewers. Her last series, “Available Light” (2012), is exceptionally numinous, as is evident in Half Bowl, its bisected pale-blue and white background reflected in the liquid the dish holds. Beyond their evident intelligence, it is the images’ patrician beauty that makes them objects of desire—not surprisingly, the title of another series in the show—even as they question that desire.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 82.