Moyra Davey’s first show with Murray Guy was an engrossing demonstration of the camera’s ability to isolate detail, organize content and serve agendas both simple and complex. Since the early ’90s, the New York-based photographer has created photographs, videos and publications whose subject matter—including studio ephemera, domestic objects and books—may suggest more sympathy toward the page than the wall. Davey steadily documents segments of her own world and operates in that narrow gap between the novel and the cinema. She is something of an intimist, and her modestly scaled C-prints, none larger than 20 by 24 inches, feature the things we value and accumulate.
The earliest works on view, five images from the series “Copperheads” (1990), are extreme close-ups of pennies, revealing their weathered, gouged surfaces, with Lincoln’s profile serially repeated. Eisenstein (1996), an image of crammed bookshelves, was taken in Davey’s home and shows the artist’s studio as academy. Popular culture informs Greatest Hits (1999), in which a collection of LPs on a shelf can be read as portraiture—who hasn’t looked through someone’s books or records to learn something about their owner?
Davey’s 32 Photographs from Paris (2009) wrapped around one room, the small images—café tabletops, clock faces, book pages and depopulated domestic settings—simply pinned to the wall in a horizontal row. After printing them, Davey folded them up and mailed each one to a friend, later reassembling them for display; the stamps and handwritten addresses are visible on many of the prints. Steeped in nostalgia for the handmade and pre-digital, these photos of café life may call up the viewer’s inner Francophile.
Exhibited in the same room was the 30-minute video My Necropolis (2009), which begins with a tour of the graves of cultural figures in Paris cemeteries. The camera drifts over the weathered memorial stones, looking for arrangements of personal remembrances left there by visitors. While such sites usually attract those seeking psychic connection to mythic figures, for Davey they appear to operate as locations where things accumulate. Later, Davey (off camera) leisurely converses with artist friends, who often make guest appearances in each other’s work. Here, they comment on an enigmatic passage in a letter written in 1931 by a depressed Walter Benjamin to his friend and fellow philosopher Gershom Scholem (a copy of the letter was available for visitors to read). While fretting over his living quarters, Benjamin professes fascination with a clock that is visible from his window, calling it a luxury that is increasingly impossible to do without. Davey’s exchanges, which include one with her young son Barney, are as cozy as the couch provided by the gallery for our viewing comfort. The press release states that Davey desires, among other things, to “reclaim a practice of photography grown out of contingency and accident.” In this, she is not alone.
Photo: Four photographs in Moyra Davey’s installation 32 Photographs from Paris, 2009, C-prints with tape, postage and ink, each 113⁄4 by 173⁄4 inches; at Murray Guy.