Natalie Krick / Natural Deceptions
On the rare occasions when Blue Sky Gallery considers how photography has changed in the 21st century, the Exhibition Committee tends to hang interesting shows. The bright color palate of Natalie Krick’s exhibition, Natural Deceptions, offers an unexpected rush from a space that is most often dedicated to staid, black and white, documentary photography. Krick hangs her work in next to a gallery filled with Barbara Kruger prints, lent from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer—who also loaned the entirety of the Mel Bochner exhibition hanging at the Jewish Museum in the same building. Krick’s convoluted portraits of her mother, sister and herself feel fresh and urgent against Kruger, one of postmodernism’s most durable masters. Krick’s work, often marked by plastic tones of primary colors, is presented in shiny gold frames. The hanging of single images and small clusters invites an appropriately slow pace in which to explore the visual and psychological complexity of each image while promoting consideration of how individual pieces interact with each other. There is not a strict linear narrative to the exhibition, yet there does seem to be a movement from mother to multitude. The exhibition begins with Reflection, an image in which Krick’s mother is photographed staring into a concave mirror, displaying for the viewer a grotesquely distorted partial reflection of her face. It ends with Masks, a photograph of a structure created from identical images of a woman’s face, each with its eyes cut away, a creepy cadre of hollowed out clones.
Krick engages a low-tech visual trickery, rooted in surrealism, to explore the complex psychological relationships involved in the generational transmission of cultural messaging, as coded among notions of glamour and resistance. In My mother in bed with roses, Krick’s mother is depicted with a full face of makeup, wearing a translucent pink dress, posed on sheets delicately gridded with tiny, printed flowers. Her head stares toward the camera, resting on a bouquet of long stem pink roses. The gaze however, is focused on some point beyond. Her left arm extends awkwardly against the pink wall behind her. She clings to the roses, a symbol of adoration, without concern for thorns. The pose is one of glamour; it is convincing, yet it only makes sense within the logic of the photograph—without a photographer’s instruction, nobody would ever position themselves in this manner.
If the image were hung in the orientation in which it was shot, Krick would be looking down on her mother, whose expression might then seem defeated. In this read, the raised arm would seem a defensive gesture. Though in a sly twist, Krick has turned the horizontal image and hung it vertically, positing the figure as floating, embracing the Renaissance tradition of extending a subject’s foot downward to denote flight. The visual cues that initially implied the photographer’s power and her subject’s abjection are transformed into an image that reads as both angelic and heroic, subtly yet deftly addressing the complexity of vanity within parent/child relationships.
The questions of culture and nurture become increasingly convoluted in Me posing as Mom posing as Marilyn. The mother is absent from the photograph, yet her presence is inescapable. It is the mother who receives, processes and invigilates cultural messaging, which is passed to children who then struggle for agency against the bombardment of beauty. In the photograph, Krick reclines upon a Kilim rug that is partially covered with a sheet of toile fabric, creating a dynamic, jarring of pattern. Her expression is a bit too matter-of-fact to be the dreamy gaze of the pinup girl. Her right hand sits seductively about her waist while the left arm is raised and tucked behind her shoulder, where the top side of four fingers emerge eerily from behind. These red painted fingernails are intended to be read as Krick’s own, yet the angle and proportions make that physically impossible. The iconic Marilyn pose is transmogrified, creating a subtle reminder that the word glamour has its roots in witchcraft, but also opening questions about how much of ourselves is fully our own. The top half of the frame presents a mustard yellow fabric upon which the younger sister poses, camouflaged in a matching yellow sweater. She uses her arms to cover all but a sliver of her face, rendering herself nearly invisible, yet persistent.
In Faux thigh gap, Krick photographs a nude woman’s body presented in front of a panel of darkly stained fir. The figure is framed from just above the navel to just above the knee, and its silhouette has been awkwardly reshaped to both address and subvert the expectations of fashion magazines. The model’s hand holds a strip of brown paper between her legs, hiding all but the edges of the pubic bush, while the dangling paper hides the unacceptable flesh of the inner thigh, creating the titular gap. Similar interventions are made to slim the waist and create a more defined hip. Krick’s modifications are just convincing enough to feel uncanny. In the context of other work in the show, this piece does not stagnate in the usual rhetoric around unrealistic standards of beauty in media. In this image, Krick looks at the phenomenon of photoshopping images of women’s bodies, but without using digital tools—it’s about reception, how the message becomes manifest, more than the mere fact of idealization. Her seemingly ad hoc interventions become another type of camouflage, masking physical aspects of the image while creating a layered maze of interpretation.
Krick’s investments are familial, a poignant back and forth between a mother and her daughters, that complicates messages of both beauty and identity. Krick seems less interested in solving social problems than she is in using those issues as a backdrop for exploring the destabilizing psychology of perfection. She has developed a visually inventive practice that subverts generational division, using that conflict as a means of working with, if not becoming closer to, her mother. Then, much like the sleight of hand involved in Krick’s photographs, she explores her mother’s damaging obsession while conspiring with her to critique these selfsame systems.