Onwards and Upwards with Sally Mann

Above photograph by the author. Depicts pieces in the show.

Gagosian Gallery on Madison is still showing Sally Mann – Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington, and it is worth a visit. This is Mann’s homage to the late artist, a close friend and mentor from their joint hometown of Lexington, Virginia. The photographs are not exclusively posthumous tributes: she took them from 1999 through 2012, both while Twombly was still alive and during the year after. The exhibition is incredible, intimate. Mann captures his studio: ordinary objects, dirty floors, leftover supplies, scratched walls, lamps, window shades gaping just-so. The “artist” as an entity is present without ever showing his face.

At the front of the space are smaller, edgier pieces that are objective and distant from the viewer; at first, Mann does not infuse any kind of personal history into her studies. She is careful, reticent, holding back. Her connection with Twombly seemingly deepens as one proceeds further into the show; they grow closer, are “in dialogue,”per say (and I mean it). Mann seems to be talking to him through her photographs. A paradox: she grasps in vain for Twombly, but navigates her way through his sea of stuff seamlessly, comfortably. Her characteristic filmy gaze renders the works time-capsules; she presses pause and breathes it all in sensing Twombly’s mortality, reminded of the fragility of his art and her own. One becomes aware of how invested Mann is in her subjects; this exercise is rooted in her memories of him, not just in places and material things. Spaces are illuminated according to blurred choices: near-blinding clinical whites evolve into warm, homey creams. Gothic noir meets residue of human existence; Twombly’s habitat is rendered fondly in his passing. Someone was there, Mann tells us. Her works are honest; refreshing, but familiar. Vignette-like shading recalls Kathy Ryan‘s “Office Romance.” A collection of images by NY Times Magazine‘s director of photography, it is published by Aperture and absolutely stunning, a great reference point by radiating simplicity, asking readers to explore what kinds of shadows and natural designs might we encounter on a daily basis, allowing us to both escape and embrace reality. Mann’s quiet, ethereal take on Twombly’s setting is very much in the same vein. Meditating on mourning, she asks, softly: what becomes of us when we’re gone? What happens to the tangible relics and voiceless remnants of who we were that are left behind?

Remembered Light is on through October 29th. In this article, she also invokes her departed son, Emmett in explaining her preparations for the show. Transcending grief is a major focus of the exhibit, and one Mann tackles admirably.

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