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
Braverman) is 42x108 inches) and in the many 11x14 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 history.
Jane Hammond: Photographs at Galerie Lelong; Martha Rossler: Great Power at Mitchell Innes & Nash
Shows close October 11