Melanie Schiff: Lay Lie Lay, Patron Gallery, Chicago

BY Jason Foumberg, July 16, 2018

Minimalist nudes and quiet still lifes comprised Melanie Schiff’s first solo exhibition at Patron Gallery, titled Lay Lie Lay. Since the early 2000s Schiff has consistently sought a feeling of stoned euphoria in her portraits, landscapes, and light studies. This exhibition extended her quest for beautiful stillness into the experience of motherhood, with unsparing examinations of her own maternal body in Lay, 2018, and Lie, 2018, and the crisp silver-gelatin print of a baby’s blanket in Ruby Verso, 2018, the fetish object of a child’s comfort second only to the breast.

Schiff’s nudes could be the offspring of Edgar Degas’s shapely studies of bathers and Francesca Woodman’s nude self-portraits in which she posed with circular props. More distinctly, Schiff is grappling with depictions of her own body after giving birth to two children. Throughout art history, the fertile body has too often been depicted in its adolescence. Here, Schiff conquers a contemporary depiction of womanhood by showing her own body and baring her own deflated breasts after nursing.

Centered in the spare exhibition of just 13 prints were two images of circular glass tabletops, peering out like eyes or breasts (Glass Circle, I, and Glass Circle, II, both 2018). Schiff often courts this kind of near-abstraction to tie her portraits to a symbolic narrative, a miniature universe comprised of the self and the family, of which we are given glimpses of intimate moments, including a close-up color photograph of a closed red door; behind it is her husband’s studio. Schiff shoots on film, achieving a moody, grainy pictorialism by pushing the speed during the processing phase. The result is a peaceful calm and a shade of human happiness.