George Woodman Photographs

Nina Freudenheim Gallery

By Jack Foran

One of the works in the current Nina Freudenheim Gallery show of photographs by George Woodman is called Hymn to Classicism.  It consists of collage-effect vertical strips of various Greek or Roman classical or classical revival sculptures, and one–one vertical strip–salon academic classicism painting.  

But most of the works in the show could be called hymns to Classicism, which they reference in various ways.  Often by incorporating images of classical sculpture–often signature classical manner nude figural sculpture–or classical architectural elements, a Corinthian order capital, other architectural fragments.  Sometimes by including a nude–or partially nude–model in conjunction with the nude sculptural figures.  Or sometimes just the nude or partially nude same model.  Or sometimes the model in street dress.  Or sometimes another model appearing only in street dress, but often in photos or collage with the sometimes nude or partially nude model.  

All as classical reference, the play with the nudity idea.  One of the classical statues that shows up in a couple of the works is the modesty Venus, nude but as if caught by surprise in that state, gesturing to hide her nudity, top and bottom.  

These are large-format photographs of mixed primary and secondary photos–the immediate photo, the photo of the moment, incorporating other photos–layered and juxtaposed so that sometimes it’s hard to tell what imagery is primary and what is secondary.  

And very Italian.  The number and variety of classical statues is evocative of an Italian art gallery, plus the titles of several works that include sculptural images specify actual Italian galleries, such as the Museo Nazionale del Bargello and the Galleria Romanelli, both in Florence.      

One of the Woodman photos is called Shrine for a Saint.  It features a carpentered sort of desk organizer or wall rack with several receptacle boxes and several prints of the same portrait photo of a woman who could be any Italian woman from the second half of the nineteenth century or first half of the twentieth, and another photo of another woman, turned slightly oblique–the photo not the woman–from the plane of the primary photo, so obscured in that way.  And not clear what the relation–if any–to the woman in the multiple photos. 

Another photo called La Principessa Cowboy Florentina is of the sometimes nude or partially nude model, nude in this case except for a near-miss version of a cowboy hat, straight out of a spaghetti western.    

The only explicitly non-Italian-reference work is called Girl in Kimono.  Actually two kimonos, or almost.  Putting on a black kimono over a white one.  Or maybe taking off the black one.  All a bit puzzling.  She’s also missing her head–or rather, we’re missing her head–which is cut off at the top of the picture.  

Woodman is an artist in various media, first and foremost painting, then photography.  In addition, he has a major work on permanent display in Buffalo–in the Delavan-Canisius subway station–in the medium of painted tiles.  Inspired by Moorish medieval tile work in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

In an artist’s statement, Woodman talks about his usual work process and usual work.  “Most days for the past sixty years,” he says, “I have gone into my studio and made the art that I long for.  This has been a painter’s practice…Today I make photographs in much the same way…Pictures come into mind, are reflected upon, often changed, surrendered to and eventually realized…These photographs push themselves into my world.  I am usually happy to see them, but sometimes saddened or perplexed.  Photography is like painting, but completely different…”  

The George Woodman exhibit continues until May 11.