In the Summer 2009 issue of ArtReview, I invite you to read my piece on Maureen Gallace's last show at Michael Kohn Gallery. This is a link to the article online. Thanks for reading.
Art Reviews, Cultural Bric a Brac, Jargon Free
I am an independent writer living in Los Angeles. I write Visual Art Reviews, General Cultural Essays, and Book Reviews.
McFarland’s photographs of gardens, I think, are clever and revelatory about photography without being preachy. One thing I love about these photographs is they do not advertise their production but instead simply acknowledge it – people touch gardens and they touch photographs, no reason to get fussy or too philosophical about the matter (although I like to, from time to time). There is something about McFarland’s gardens that are fully embodied and there in a way that perhaps McFarland’s photos including people are not. In those photographs, the people are not comfortable in the photograph -- they do not feel like they belong. The lighting is often inconsistent and the seams a little too apparent. How they are made is there, both visually and metaphorically, but in the photographs of people, the disjoint between the collaged and the background seems to come at a loss to beauty. The gardens seem a visual whole, refer to how they are made, but do not sacrifice beauty for a clumsy point about constructed images.
And why should I care about any of this? To what point do I praise certain of McFarland’s photographs for planting the roots of their creation inside themselves without fanfair, without ceremony, without overt reference, and without sacrifice of aesthetics?
I would say that I find McFarland’s straightforward and humble photos of gardens more appealing than other photographers that are all obsessed with showing the effect and results of production, obsessed with revealing that making a photograph is a process bound up in a market and in ideologies, that these markets and ideologies necessarily separate us from our humanity and turn us into hollow beings. Often photography of this kind is overly earnest, didactic, and obscure. On one hand, the photographers seem distrustful that their viewers can get all the information they need to take away from their practice, while on the other, keeping them information from them by desperately wanting to avoid expression, metaphor, and other time honored tools for conveying meaning.
I will be the last to say that I like even most of McFarland’s photographs because I don’t, but these gardens do promote a way of acknowledging and expanding many of the lessons we’ve learned about photography in the last thirty years without the (supposedly necessary) emptying out of sentiment, romantic notions of beauty, humanity, and of a unified vision of the world. McFarland’s gardens do not seem to fall into these traps. His concerns are fresh and of the moment, but he does so without abandoning humanist concerns like beauty and metaphor. For McFarland, these difficult to know and perhaps old fashion realms of meaning in art are necessary and unavoidable when you want to make a point to a viewer or to show them something dazzling. It is true we are heirs to an age of critique and an age where humanist concerns were taken apart, revealed, and damaged, but that does not mean that we must take that age as a given and despair. I think McFarland’s gardens offer a nice alternative.