Sara Cwynar. Red Rose, 2017.
Pigment print mounted on Dibond 30 x 24 in. Artist’s proof 1/2 Collection of David Madee
Sara Cwynar. Tracy (Pantyhose), 2017.
Dye sublimation print on aluminum 30 x 38 in. Edition #1 of 3, Edition of 3 with 2AP
Like any language, photography has given birth to a series of clichés that are reductive at best. At their worst, they become a vehicle for disinformation and stereotype, fueling pathologies by reinforcing the most dangerous aspects of confirmation bias. As Jenny Holzer noted, “Clichés endure” — and may very well exist until we root them out and expose them for the perilous, short-sighted, and sloppy thinking that they are.
Canadian artist Sara Cwynar takes aim at popular photographic clichés in her new exhibition, Gilded Age, on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, through November 10, 2019. Featuring a selection of the artist’s color photographs made over the past five years, the exhibition also includes Kitsch Encyclopedia (2014) her first artist book; Cover Girl (2018), a 16mm film on video with sound; and 72 Pictures of Modern Paintings (2016), a site-specific wallpaper.
Whatever medium Cwynar selects, she uses the form to explore and expose the ways in which images are constructed and recycled in an endless digital loop. Cwynar sets her sights on the preponderance of visual clichés that crowd our space, recognizing the ways in which they can be used as dog whistles to signify ulterior agendas.
For Cwynar, the subject of misogyny takes center stage as she delves deep into the past to examine the ways in which dated iconography is continuously revived. Whether looking at portraits or product shots, Cwynar’s work reveals a cultural penchant for played out archetypes that reinforce dated notions of gender and sexuality as a means to cultivate insecurity and desire and thus expand market share.
While her starting point is drawn from pre-digital sources as diverse as the New York Public Library, a local dollar store, a curbside dumpster, and eBay, Cwynar uses technology to examine the ways in which visual language plays into our fantasies while simultaneously spawning nightmares. The modern-day obsession with lifestyle, as evidenced by everyone from social media influencers to advertisers underscores a long-standing capitalist belief that you can buy happiness — when they understand that the pleasure is as fleeting as the printing of your receipt, and once hooked you can be sold time and again, like an addict on the street.
Yet, for all of the truth that is exposed, the fact is there’s nothing quite so pleasurable as the high. Cwynar’s work does not veer away from beauty, but rather uses it like bait on a hook, captivating us with the fact that what we really, really want, is to stand still and just look.
Sara Cwynar. Women, 2015. Collection of Jane Oster
Sara Cwynar. 72 Pictures of Modern Paintings, 2016.
Digitally printed color wallpaper Site specific
Sara Cwynar. Ultra Cosmetics Inc “SQUARE” Compact Powder (Item #31),
“STANDARD” Compact Powder (Item #33), 2015 Collection of Josh and Jill Tarnow
Sara Cwynar. Corinthian Column (Plastic Cups), 2016.
Chromogenic print mounted on Plexiglas 30 x 24 in. Exhibition copy
Sara Cwynar 432 Photographs of Nefertiti, 2015. Collection of Dr. Terry Golash
All images: © Sara Cwynar. Courtesy of Cooper Cole, Toronto and Foxy Production, New York .