Pictures have antecedents; they bear in their form and content ghostly genealogies. The more we see, the more we see precedent. There is a pleasure in that, and anxiety, for history is an imaginative act. Each new image creates the past. For example, in the cover image by Julie Blackmon, Olive and Market St., we can make out a host of relatives. The near-empty street and the strange young-old figure turned away from the viewer reminds us of the famous painting by the surrealist Balthus, Le Passage du Commerce Saint Andre (1952), and its precursor,The Street (1933). Circuslike and perverse, they are a child’s vision invaded by anxiety and desire. What inspired this image? Perhaps that earlier act of street theater by Kertész, Meudon(1928), with a train flying through the air, a mysterious top-hatted man carrying a wrapped painting up the street of a run-down neighborhood, while dark gentlemen linger in the distance. The photographic frame ruptures reality and frees this view to begin an enigmatic life of its own. Balthus’s street later inspires a fashion photograph by Avedon, with a model, a strongman and a contortionist turning the street into a carnival sideshow, and that picture, revised by Joel Brodsky—probably thinking more about Fellini than fashion—becomes the cover of the Doors’ album Strange Days. Blackmon makes her references to painting explicit, as she did in earlier work, when she took inspiration from the domestic interiors of 17th-century Dutch painting. At heart, she’s an allegorist, showing one thing and suggesting something else. She makes as much as takes her images, in this case confecting a scene to represent the ages of life, from child to crone. At her show at the Robert Mann Gallery November 1-
January 12, viewers will be able, in Mann’s words, to “enter worlds of interpretation through the doorways each element provides.” Blackmon’s subject is one that has always inspired allegory, at least from the time of Breughel—childhood. The small world of children reflects and comments on the big world they will enter, but of course with a difference. In Blackmon’s childworld, the adults often seem oblivious to the fantastic and ominous things taking place underfoot or in the next room. Blackmon is the mother of three, and ordinary scenes for her hold their own fascination, but they quickly segue into the mysterious. “As an artist and as a mother, I believe life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality: to see the mythic amidst the chaos,” she says. Just as art’s most compelling moments come from its ability to fuse then and now, to reveal the ghostly persistence of earlier images in the apparent novelty of the present.