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By Alan Behr

NEW YORK, 16 JULY 2011 — One of the hardest challenges for an artist is not to let predilection or, worse, the public or, worst of all, the critics pressure you into repeating yourself. The Egyptian Yasmine Chatila (b. 1974, Cairo)has certainly avoided the rut of repetition in Reveries & Delusions, her show at Edelman Arts, in New York City. She has made such a stylistic break from her last collection of images that it is impossible to say, this early on, if she has reached farther in so doing; that will be the payoff if time — the most demanding force confronting any artist’s reputation — proves that she was right in moving in a new direction.

Yasmine Chatila: Appetite for Destruction
Copyright © Yasmine Chatila

The last time around (2009), Chatila presented Stolen Moments, a series of large black-and-white photographs in which people were caught in private — sometimes intimate — nighttime scenes through the windows of their New York City apartments.  Chatila said she used a telescope-equipped camera for her work; to deflect legal questions concerning invasion of privacy, she said that Photoshop had helped mask the subjects’ identities and that the results were fiction. We can comfortably believe her.  The logistical and technical limitations of her stated working methods likely precluded any other option.  (It is not as easy as it might look to a non-photographer to find the needed vantage points in Manhattan, and as for nocturnal photography through a telescope at an ISO rating low enough to produce consistently acceptable results for large-format prints: that works for astronomers but not so often for the rest of us.)The most important thing that any young artist can do to enhance his career these days is to call attention to himself, and we cannot fault Chatila for doing so by precipitating a dialogue on voyeurism, especially since the images, as a group, are powerful and engrossing.

Reveries & Delusions more openly celebrates a cut-and-paste technique, this time by the electronic use of forms of collage that became a forceful presence in art from about the moment that the young Picasso pasted newsprint onto canvas. Many of the core photographs spliced into the images are recognizable — so much so that we wonder if the artist obtained licenses.  Unlicensed uses of images have become big news for art lawyers: The defeat just weeks ago in federal district court in Manhattan that the French photographer Patrick Cariou handed to Richard Prince and the Gagosian Gallery and the settlement earlier this year of The Associated Press’s lawsuit in the same court against the Shepard Fairey over his Obama Hope poster remind us how restless and uncertain this area of art law has become.

Yasmine Chatila: Flying Bibles
Copyright © Yasmine Chatila

Chatila’s new works range across a broad range of subjects, with varying levels of success, although irony and social and political commentary are unifying themes. In one of the cleverest, Appetite for Destruction, a place setting is worked into Petar Kujundzic’s 2010 photograph of a phalanx of women of the North Korean military. Goose stepping with stubby, conical legs, they are armed, shall we say, to the teeth. There is good fun in many other works, such as Rapture, in which the image of God from the Sistine Chapel ceiling hovers over an assembly of clerics seated along a lovely beach.

Artists appropriate the works of others at their own legal and artistic risk.  The practical implementation of the legal risk increases with the financial ability of the appropriated artist to sue (just ask Richard Prince), but the artistic risk increases if the original work is so memorable that what the artist makes of it has to struggle to compete. Moon Party features Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow in their party clothes and masks for Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball at The Plaza Hotel. Superimposed here is a view from space of the Earth, giving the appearance of a fecund rising moon.  Personal context will alter perception: when we showed both images to a socialite who happened to be passing by, she promptly replied, "The original is much more interesting."

Yasmine Chatila: In God We Trust
Copyright © Yasmine Chatila

For Soulmate, Chatila scanned Peter Leibing’s photograph of the nineteen-year-old East German border guard Conrad Schumann jumping over the barbed wire that formed the Berlin Wall on the third day of its existence.  It is one of the great images of the Cold War — the guard risking his life to escape from becoming his own jailer. Chatila has surrounded the image of Schumann with a cutout of what may be a woman or someone of the likes of Michael Jackson trying to look like a woman. The Leibing photograph is so inherently impressive, it is hard for those of us who know it to see Chatila’s alterations as anything but an imposition.

Perhaps the lesson here is that, with collage, it is good not to know too much. Deconstruction is the enemy of collage, but it is an easy craft to practice when individual components are so recognizable that a familiarity with them distracts from the new unity made by the artist. When you cast aside knowledge of root sources, however, the charm of many works in Reveries & Delusions can only grow on you.

Yasmine Chatila: Reveries and Delusions
Through 29 July 2011

Edelman Arts
136 East 74th Street
New York, NY
(1) 212 472 7770

Alan Behr is co-head of the Art Law Practice at Alston & Bird LLP.  A member of the American Society of Media Photographers, his most recent exhibition of photographs was Naked at the Ball, at Leica Gallery in New York City.

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