Expiration Date at Ricco Maresca Gallery
Image above: Joel-Peter Witkin, Kertesz in Edo, 2005, Gelatin silver print / Courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery
Awareness of mortality defines life the way darkness defines light. Without it, there would be no self, no need for gods, no passion or attachment, no compulsion to mark days, weeks, and years. Death is both the most factual of facts and the ultimate mys- tery. As all things quintessential to the human condition, it is subject to as many por- trayals as there are circumstances; a fertile ground for imagination and creativity: a fundamental paradox. Expiration Date presents a collection of modern and contempo- rary works by both known and anonymous artists working across a spectrum of me- diums around the themes transience and mortality. Beyond a strict curatorial schema, the breadth of this exhibition showcases the persuasiveness and salient evocative pull of works that elevate death past the idea of a final frontier and characterize it, rather, as part of a continuum. Thus, veering from the obvious facets of taboo or the morose and celebrating the cathartic power of art, its ability to generate novel realities.
Image above: ©Gerald Slota, Cookie Cutter II, 1999, Unique gelatin silver print / Courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery
Selected works range from interpretations of iconic historic and biblical events: a witty Last Supper tableau by Self-Taught master William Hawkins and a meticulous render- ing of the immortal catastrophe of the Titanic by calendar savant George Widener. To a rare work by 19th Century American painter David Scott Evans—depicting an ethereal female floating between the pleasures of life and the heat of hell. To works by preemi- nent photographers: André Kertész with a selection of subtly lyrical compositions, and Joel-Peter Witkin with a still life of perverse beauty and a surreal quotation of Kertész himself. To contemporary artists Scott Campbell and Gerald Slota, Campbell taking on the subject matter with an urban, “Grateful Dead” sensibility, and Slota with his master- ful way of obscuring meaning and cutting through the incantatory, time-freezing power of photography to expose mortality as a constant undercurrent.
Image above: ©André Kertész, April 20, 1980, SX-70 Polaroid, Dated on verso / Courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery
Expiration Date also revisits the outstanding quality of relevant works from the Folk and Vernacular arenas. Among them, a striking and purposeful mid-19th Century Penitente figure from New Mexico, a Herman Bridgets (“Bridgers”) aggregate concrete head- stone that approaches Cycladic sculpture and other ancient effigies, a 16-part series of salesman sample paintings from the 1920s displaying tombstone designs in a matter- of-fact, brilliantly illustrative style, and a collection of original vintage hand prints signed by their subjects, made between the World Wars by renowned German palm reader Marianne Raschig.
Image above: ©Joel-Peter Witkin, Still Life with Breast, 2001, Gelatin silver print mounted to board / Courtesy of Ricco Maresca
Through the divergences and the common threads of the works here collected, and by thinning the lines between the religious and the secular (academic and pop iconogra- phy), the utilitarian and ritual; between the very concrete and the more elusive repre- sentations of mortality, this exhibition seeks to create an interesting visual resonance, so to speak. But above all, to seize the vitality behind the human impulse to transcend decay and resist oblivion, to give shape to the shapeless. In this sense, Expiration Date contains more than a small measure of irony, because what art does in the best of cas- es—through the symbolic appropriation of all unknowns, and its potential dialogue with new viewers and perspectives—is make things fresh: extend “shelf life,” ad infinitum.