Art Forum


Dec 03, 2007

The majority of the photographs from Lynne Cohen’s “Camouflage” series, 1971–2004, are housed in custom-made Formica frames made by a kitchen counter fabricator. The odd frames echo other synthetic materials (linoleum, Naugahyde) that appear everywhere in these enigmatic black-and-white images of institutional interiors, exhibited together here for the first time. Untitled (Little Man), ca. 1970s, is illustrative of the idiosyncratic style Cohen has honed during her nearly forty-year career: A flowered plastic and chrome chair sits in a shabby corner, flanked by an electric outlet and a Colonel Sanders figurine adrift in a sea of linoleum. Similarly, Untitled (Bubble Chairs), ca. 1980s, features a scruffy collection of the mod plastic chairs against a brick wall. In both, the light is flat; the textures are distinct due to Cohen’s fastidious use of a large-format camera. Juxtaposition is vital, as well. In Untitled (Concave Glass Window), ca. 1970s, two blank televisions are incongruously stacked and topped with a potted palm. The subtle humor and rigorously formal composition Cohen finds in these flawed, pathetic spaces presage Louise Lawler’s images of contemporary art installed among the tchotchkes in collectors’ homes. Cohen, though, criticizes gently. Her focus on easily missed details—patched Naugahyde, peeling Formica—signals instead the kind of engagement found in parts of Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces, which deploys deadpan prose to exhaustively describe a space until it becomes uncanny. One’s attention is, for good reason, often not concentrated on these liminal details—if the kind of cognitive dissonance revealed here by Cohen were perpetually felt, one might never leave the house.