Exhibition Review: The Hollywood Suites
By Frances Molina
It’s only a few hours until closing time at the Howard Greenberg Gallery when I duck in from the bitter cold of a Friday afternoon; however, the gallery is empty and eerily silent, save for the too-loud thud of my heels on the wide wooden floor - the perfect atmosphere for viewing Steve Kahn’s striking and enigmatic series The Hollywood Suites.
Contrary to its title, Kahn’s series of photographs could not be further removed from the glamour and obvious sex appeal of Hollywood. Shot in grainy, high-contrast black and white, Kahn created this body of work in rent-by-the-day rooms of a decrepit tenement building with the help of his Polaroid camera, 35mm film, and a few professional bondage models. Some images feature the artist himself or his silhouette, clinging to the dingy white walls or trying unsuccessfully to escape a locked room; others feature naked women, bound in white tape or nothing at all, perched and propped around the room like furniture. The result is a surreal and chilling meditation on containment, “exploring the contained through explorations of the container itself - how one takes on the nature of the other”.
The most striking of Kahn’s images are entirely void of human subjects. There are multiple photographs of a plain white door (Bound Doors); Kahn has taped broad “Xs” across the hinges, along the doorjamb, and across the length of the door itself as if in an attempt to seal the room off. The effect is startling, creating an ominous tension within the viewer. Am I the one being contained? Or is there something else, something Kahn is containing, on the other side of that door? In another set of photographs, Windows, the tense black and white palette infuse a simple shot of an open window with the provocative power of a crime scene photograph.
Finally, Kahn’s Triptychs and Quadrants connect the physical and metaphorical abstract approach at the center of The Hollywood Suites series. On their own, the single images Kahn produced of various doors and hallways don’t hold much weight. But when enlarged, sliced, and reassembling the images in triptychs and quadrants, the artist invites the viewer to explore and investigate the architectural space in a new way. As Kahn wrote, “I took the space apart and reconstructed it. I ended up creating an existential situation for myself”.
Musée Magazine is sorry to report that Steven Kahn died last week on the morning of his exhibition debut. The Hollywood Suites is Kahn’s first solo show in New York and his first show with the Howard Greenberg Gallery. The series will be on view until March 17th, 2018.