Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present a closer look at work by three artists featured at Paris Photo. Returning to the histories of art and visual culture, Carrie Mae Weems, Christian Marclay, and Hiroshi Sugimoto reveal and refract structures of power, play, and pleasure underlying our ways of seeing.
Each artist approaches history differently, whether through the particular pain of racist imaginaries, the humor in surprising juxtapositions, or the deep reverence for monumental forms. Yet the works pictured here remind us of the complex ways in which art’s past continues to shape our present.
In Carrie Mae Weems’s Missing Link series, the artist delves into the racist histories of New Orleans Mardi Gras traditions. Dressed in a black suit, white gloves, and varying animal masks, the artist alludes to a collection of costume design drawings for the 1873 Comus Mardi Gras Parade, originally titled The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species.
The illustrations served as plans for the parade’s papîer-maché costumes. Their grotesque combinations of human and animal features co-opted the theory of evolution to satirize political figures in the aftermath of the American Civil War, when Union forces occupied Louisiana and African American citizens gained greater political representation.
By picturing herself in these roles, Weems refracts the racist visual history of Mardi Gras for a contemporary audience, upending the power hierarchies aimed at subjugating African American men and women. As the artist stated at the 2013 LOOK3 Photo Festival, “I’m interested in the historical past as well as the historical present and how the past has a hold on the present, and how it shapes us.”
In a collage featuring a record album, Christian Marclay juxtaposes the gestures of a classical conductor with Edvard Munch’s iconic Scream. Since the 1990s, Marclay has incorporated record albums and other fragments from pop culture and art history in his work, creating collages that continue his exploration of the visualization of sound and music.
The figure of Munch’s Scream appears repeatedly within Marclay’s work, as a sort of time-traveler who makes an appearance in often distorted or fragmentary forms. In Marclay’s 2021 publication, Index, for example, the artist uses a Xerox machine to make new and varied compositions from the canonical painting, in effect “sketching” with the copy machine. Sequential pages within the book, when flipped through, emerge as manual animations through viewer participation.
Hiroshi Sugimoto was inspired to begin his Past Presence series during a 2013 visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photographing the famed sculpture garden designed by Philip Johnson, the artist found himself in the company of works by Giacometti, Brancusi, and Picasso.
In the series, the artist revisits some of the 20th century’s most significant modernist artworks, in this case Picasso’s Head of a Woman. By photographing the sculpture slightly out of focus, and thereby obscuring the detail of its plaster surface, the artist disrupts the familiar perception and attempts to present the well-known image as it might have first appeared in the artist’s mind: a monumental, classicized depiction of his young lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter.