JOEL AARON GLASSMAN
by Mario Cutajar
(Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood) Divested of the ersatz glamour that has attached to them over the years of their association with the mythical L.A. of movie stars, convertibles and sun-blessed hedonism, George Neykov's palm trees take on the appearance of some alien Jurassic species that is infesting a degraded post-industrial wasteland. Crushed between freeway guard rails, nodding off in scruffy heaps, exploding from the base of a tank-farm wall, or rising straight up in tumescent salute to Angelyne's bounteous curves gracing a billboard that's dwarfed by a concrete highrise, these palms are far removed from the kind that inhabit tourist postcards.
Looking at Neykov's toned gelatin silver prints, one is tempted to think of the proverbial blade of grass breaking through a city sidewalk. But to what end? If the blade of grass supplies an all-too-easily exploitable symbol of nature's resiliency, these trashy palms testify to nature's mindless indifference to the fate of individuals, be they human beings or palm trees. And to that extent, they serve as metaphor for the poignant (or farcical) absurdity of human striving, whose most monumental artifact is the sprawling megalopolis that maims and crushes the life of both men and plants.
Perhaps as a means of making the metaphor more explicit, Neykov groups these images inside elaborate, archaic frames that once held family portraits--leaving some of the portraits in the frames. This shotgun wedding of Christian Boltanski and Lewis Baltz, of the funereal and the dystopian, risks diminishing the impact of these images, which are strongest when they dwell, in J. G. Ballard-like fashion, on collision and injury, and the mutilated, hybrid landscape that urbanization has wrought.
By contrast Joel Glassman's close-up studies of orchids, part of a larger body of work centered on the Huntington Garden in San Marino, belong squarely within the pictorialist tradition. Isolating the white-fleshed flowers and their reproductive parts against a dark ground, Glassman's images focus on the sexual suggestiveness of the details. This is an area that has been intensely cultivated for over a century, and while one can grant the enduring allure of the subject it is not at all clear what this veteran photographer's pictures add to it. Unwittingly, however, Glassman's sentimentality serves as a foil for Neykov's harder-eyed vision.
There is indeed a cycle played out in this exhibition, but it is not so much a cycle of nature as it is of photographic styles, and the shifting perspective on the meaning of nature which they manifest.