What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

June 15, 2023

Sarah Charlesworth
Karma Los Angeles
May 6 - July 7, 2023

Sarah Charlesworth

Sarah Charlesworth first exhibited the photographs from her Neverland series in 2002. These brightly colored images followed 0+1 (1999), a much more subdued series that explored the threshold of vision and were all shades of white, which made it hard to distinguish the picture from the background. Charlesworth (1947-2013) was an artist associated with the "Pictures Generation" and well known for her conceptually based works that often incorporated appropriated materials. Her iconic images from "Modern History," including Herald Tribune January 18 - February 28, 1991 and Arc of Total Eclipse, 1979 presented the front pages of different newspapers with everything removed except the header and a selection of images (for example, a photograph of a solar eclipse in Arc of Total Eclipse). These works were often displayed in a line or as a grid to allow viewers to compare and contrast image size and placement of the featured image within the layout of the front page. Charlesworth's approach to photography, including the formal elegance and conceptual rigor of her works influenced generations of artists and photographers.

Seeing Neverland again is not only a reminder of the tragedy of the untimely death of an artist in her prime, but also poses questions like what might have come next? How would she have reacted to AI? What kind of images would she have created with this new technology? In Neverland, Charlesworth stepped aside from appropriation in favor of photographing objects in the studio, each one placed on a matching monochromatic and vividly colored background. The results are striking and unsettling. For Teapot (all works created in 2002) Charlesworth placed an ornate yellow teapot against a similarly hued background. The teapot appears to be in mid-pour although there is no hand holding it nor liquid coming from its spout. A typical household object, in this context it also references Aladdin's magical lamp. Devil, Candle and Pencil are all bright red photographs with each displaying the similarly colored object of their title. Centered in Devil is a completely red devil mask, whereas in Candle, the flame stands out as a realistic orange-yellow and in Pencil, the point and end are true to life— black lead surrounded by wood.

While it is noted that in Neverland, Charlesworth digitally manipulated her images for the first time, it is impossible to know the extent. Did Charlesworth find a red candlestick holder that matches the red of an extremely long candle that floats in a deep red shadowless space, or did she use a computer to match the colors? Unusual scale shifts also occur across the images. What size was the small tree in Tree? Was it smaller or larger than the pipe in Pipe, an homage to Réne Magritte's The Treachery of Images (1929)? While Magritte's painting of a pipe was not a pipe, Charlesworth's depiction is neither a pipe nor a painting, but rather a photograph of a pipe. Other art historical associations include references to still lives as in Fruit Colored Fruit — red and green apples, a lemon, bananas and grapes draped over a white bowl against a black background, as well as in Teacups, a precarious tower of teacups and saucers.

By titling the series Neverland, Charlesworth evokes the fictional, faraway, magical island associated with Peter Pan and the images are infused with a surreal, impossible aura, despite the fact that for the most part, Charlesworth frames ordinary objects. Through her lens, coloration and conceptual savvy, she elevates these "things" into something extraordinary. Whether straightforward, or digitally manipulated, the photographs from Neverland have a long-lasting and powerful resonance and it is a privilege to see them together again.