Works on Paper, on Paper
Barbara Bloom started producing the series “Works on Paper, On Paper,” the artist’s solo show on view at David Lewis Gallery, more than three decades ago. At the core of the exhibition are “Stand-Ins”, works consisting of unfurled rolls of seamless backdrop paper, on which, abandoned set props remain—remnants of a portrait taken in the past. Bloom describes the pieces as "hovering somewhere between sculpture and mise en scène." The “Stand-In'' works include recreations of Bloom’s first attempts at this form, beginning in 1986, and also several new ones. The backdrop papers—displayed in a wide variety of bold hues, their attendant props, chairs, benches, and beds left empty—point to the process of art-making, the scenes of creation that are never part of the final product. This display, as well the work itself, is echoed in the show’s title. Bloom describes it as, “the framing of the frame” in a pamphlet accompanying the exhibition. Each work widens the lens of the original photo with its subject notably missing.
In addition to creating a meta-documentation of artistic production, each “Stand-In'' alludes to a specific cultural figure—the imagined subject of the deserted portrait set—conjured by the objects left behind. The subjects are revealed in the framed images accompanying each piece, and serve to contextualize her abandoned scenes. Homage to Jean Luc Godard (Corrected) (1986-2001), the 1986 piece recreated for this exhibition, is the most straightforward: a portrait of Godard is framed by yellow backdrop paper, and shown together with the seamless paper and a copy of the chair—a 19th century children’s posture correction chair—Godard would have sat on, for the photograph. A bit more abstractly revisited is a portrait of Joan Didion photographed in her home. In The Problem with Joan Didion (2021) [pictured], Bloom recreates the mantelpiece Didion would sit in front of, notably a blank canvas, with the trinkets and small objects that adorn it cast in glass. Other “Stand-Ins” reference Chris Mann (Bloom’s late husband), Marilyn Monroe, Susan Sontag, and Andy Warhol. The choice of subjects narrate the artist’s own history through past influences, peers, and loved ones lost.
A second series of works, “Objects of Desire,” also on display, is a set of facsimiles modeled after particular objects Bloom had encountered and coveted over the course of her life. Like “Stand-Ins'', here each object signals a personal relation or connection with a cultural figure: James Joyce’s handwritten schema for Ulysses; Jackie Kennedy’s French grammar book; and Vladamir Nabokov’s diary. Taken together, the exhibition performs a tribute in absence, a meditation on the objects and sometimes the words left—even if unintentionally—in a person’s wake. Collectively, they come to stand in for who they are, in memory. —Esra Soraya Padgett
Barbara Bloom, The Problem with Joan Didion, 2021. Cast and blown glass objects displayed on underlit faux mantel, photograph of Joan Didion in the living room of her Park Avenue apartment, Victorian Lachrymatory tear vessel, Dimensions variable.