Art Catch: Jane Hammond and Martha Rossler

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10/07/2008 9:30 AM |

This week, The L‘s Patricia Milder takes on two photomontage exhibits.

Next door to each other on 26th Street, Galerie Lelong and Mitchell
Innes & Nash are both closing exhibits of photomontage at the end
of the week. Viewed in immediate succession, the new pieces by Jane
Hammond and Martha Rossler portray the contrasting possibilities of
collage, but in comparison serve mostly as illustrations of each
other’s weaknesses. Neither show is particularly life altering, and yet
observed together under clouds of stark contrast and persistent
mediocrity, a third element comes to life: the question of that elusive
point where subtlety (or at least "statement," as opposed to
"overstatement" in visual imagery) meets well-communicated meaning.

One could easily take a casual walk through Hammond’s show without ever
realizing that it was her own face on the bodies of all the females in
the extra-large multiple-snapshot frames, the kind everyone’s mother or
grandmother has up in the hallway at home. But it is her likeness: she
is the one doing nude gymnastics on the lawn and again in front of a
drawing class, the one behind bars, and the one holding a camera or a
large erect penis. In these found images of a strange, lost Americana,
even the young girls are altered to wear Hammond’s appropriately aged
and emoting face. Themes of the American farm, ancient statues, unusual
animal/human interaction, non-sexual nudity, creative sex, and
photography itself repeat in both these large compositions (Album(Rita
is 42×108 inches) and in the many 11×14 prints displayed. These range
from Hammond as wife of Elvis to those that have been changed only
minutely, and don’t feature her mug. Taken as a whole, the altered
photographs in this show create the sense of a happy yet wildly
animalistic, surreal world, in which the Hammond pictured here — nudist
photographer and sexual exhibitionist — is content.

If Hammond portrays intimate, little seen details of a quirky, twisted
American life in photographs, Rossler just cuts to the chase: war vs.
consumerism. Poster and banner sized colorful images show
unapologetically simple, familiar contrasts between fashion and the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can pretty much guarantee that no one
visiting the gallery will be awakened to this issue for the first time,
and Rossler doesn’t push her point or her style much further than it
was when she started it as the Vietnam War series Bringing the War
Home: House Beautiful, 1967-72
. In and of itself the consistency draws
parallels between Vietnam and the current war, but Rossler already
specifically recreated the House Beautiful series in 2004. Some of
those pieces were shown as part of the group collage show
"Unmonumental" at the New Museum last year. Alongside a diverse
collection of other works they held up as recognizable little blasts,
but by now, enough is enough.

Alongside the photo collages, Rossler offers a DVD clip of a soldier
puppet playing "God Bless America" on the trumpet that ends with a shot
of the puppet’s prosthetic, mechanical leg. A similar but refrigerator
size mechanical leg hangs from the ceiling, decorated with pictures of
ladies’ heels. The show as a whole, much talked about but
inconsequential 25-cent turnstile entry included, uses completely
outdated tactics, has little depth beyond the obvious and is
disappointing especially for those who agree with Rossler’s political
critique. The collection of newspaper articles on view as well as the
photographs of political, sci-fi and fiction books indicate that
Rossler promotes education and intellectualism as the antidote: an
obvious suggestion that is received as grating and tiresome. Rossler’s
grandiosity might reduce the memory of Hammond’s quirky world to that
of secondary importance in light of today’s America and our greatest
current tragedy, but at least Hammond’s work warrants thoughtful
returns. Each re-visit yields something new: nuance, detail and
generalization bring one away with valuable reflections on photographic
reality and the sometimes beauty of our mostly fictional American

Jane Hammond: Photographs at Galerie Lelong; Martha Rossler: Great Power at Mitchell Innes & Nash

Shows close October 11