In 1992 Zoe Leonard wrote a scathing manifesto on the occasion of a presidential election involving Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Her text pleaded: “And I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.” These words loom large today and will loom even larger next week, when a giant poster with her text goes up on a pillar between West 13th and Little West 12th Street, beside the High Line.
Examples of Leonard’s more recent photo and installation work can be seen uptown. The exhibition “In the Wake” explores memory and the effects of war using images culled from Leonard’s own family archive. In a minimal but mind-teasing installation, pictures of pictures—black-and-white photographs of old family snapshots—are hung on the walls over vintage how-to photography books stacked in piles that recall Minimalist sculptures. The snapshots date to the period immediately after World War II. Presented without biographical detail, they pose a tantalizing mystery. I examined each work, searching for clues about these long-ago experiences frozen in time. But ultimately the details don’t matter. Taken together, the images suggest moments of life captured with a click in the aftermath of a historic struggle.
Pictured: Zoe Leonard: Warsaw 1943, 2016, two pigment prints, 29¾ by 23½ inches each. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, New York.