To Say It Isn’t So is an exhibition of new large-scale photographs by Chicago-based artist Laura Letinsky. Letinsky’s new work marks a return to the still life, but now she has moved from her own domestic space to that of the studio, making meticulously composed and exquisitely lit pictures of everyday detritus. Utilizing discarded styrofoam cups, paper napkins, plastic cutlery, paper plates, crushed cans and paper bags, Letinsky conflates the timeless beauty of the classical still life with the chaotic banality of contemporary consumer culture.
Letinsky’s earlier still lifes of decaying food on empty tables in vacant rooms explored themes of gratification, indulgence and abandonment and suggested the tensions and disappointments of domestic life. In To Say It Isn’t So, Letinsky has moved the sphere of engagement out of her home and into the studio where the objects she has retrieved from the street are arranged on a simple table in a spare setting. In addition, she has dispensed with the implied stories of her earlier series:Venus Inferred, which pictured couples in intimate domestic settings, and Hardly More than Ever comprised of still lifes of abandoned tables strewn with the debris of a meal consumed. As she states, “Through my choice of objects and the formal aspects of my pictures, I have tried to strip away the narrative or symbolic inferences to determine what’s left for pictures.”
By selecting primarily white and neutral-colored objects and blanching them with bright natural light, Letinsky explores a wide range of white tints while challenging our ability to perceive them. The absence of color reduces these familiar, recognizable products to a simplified geometry of circles, cones, rectangles and lines. With her oblique perspective and emphasis on forms, Letinsky heightens the tension between three-dimensional objects in a volumetric space and the flat picture plane of the photograph, animated by lines and shapes.Temporality plays a role in all of Letinsky’s work. Previously Letinsky invoked a sense of events having transpired or a particular moment unfolding. In To Say It Isn’t So, the objects she chooses were originally designed to be quickly used and discarded; but, in the stillness of her images, Letinsky grants them a timelessness at odds with their original purpose. As with the still lifes of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, Letinsky’s precise compositions and delicate modulation of light bestow a value and beauty upon the banal and disposable objects of contemporary life.
Born in Canada in 1962, Letinsky has exhibited both nationally and internationally. Letinsky received her MFA from Yale University in 1991 and was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000. Letinsky’s work is held in the collections of the Stuttgart Museum, Germany, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Amon Carter Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. Publications include Now, Again, Galerie Kusseneers 2005, Hardly More Than Ever, The Renaissance Society 2004, Eating Architecture, MIT Press 2004, Blink, Phaidon Press 2002, and Venus Inferred, University of Chicago Press 2000. Laura Letinsky is a Professor at the University of Chicago and Chair of the Department of Visual Arts. Recent reviews can be found on Artforum.com, The New Yorker Magazine, and upcoming in Art on Paper.