Exhibition Review: Zoe Leonard at Hauser + Wirth
Review, 500 words
Globalism and the Decline of the Corner Store: Zoe Leonard’s Photographs at Hauser & Wirth
Evocatively representing gentrification and globalization, Zoe Leonard’s Analogue utilizes a minimalist strategy of repetition in a vast clustering of 412 photographs of straight-ahead shots. Produced between 1998 and 2009, the square, unframed images are arranged in grids and organized into 25 chapters within a spacious gallery at Hauser and Wirth.
Leonard showcases closed storefronts (whether they are off hours, or out of business, it is not clear), crudely handwritten signs for services, low-end retail items on display, and stacks of baled, unidentifiable dry goods. Taken as a whole the exhibition is a comment on globalism at the peril of the mom and pop shop.
Neglect is apparent in a close-up image showing a once orderly window display of brightly hued Joy dish soap, which has begun to collapse on itself. Large bottles remain standing upright, but smaller ones have shifted and slipped, oozing yellow slime, making a mess of their ebullient label. A sad, but funny image, it reads as a metaphor in which the big guys seem to be faring okay, at the expense of the little guys. It is not all doom and gloom, there is sardonic humor and impish play on display throughout the exhibition. For example, in the surrealist scrawled signs which read “Infinity, 99 cents”, “Tax Divorce Bkruptcy”, and “Money is Life”, the words becoming off kilter aphorisms.
An artist activist living and practicing in New York since the 1980s, Leonard’s studio on the Lower East Side (LES) has been a source of material in her art practice, as she has steadily documented displacement and urban renewal.
The images are not just from her walks around the LES but also taken while traveling in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and Mexico. Leonard provides no labels, leaving the locations of the individual images unclear. Of course, this is in part the point: the installation speaks to the worldwide exchange of goods and the monotonous global economy where differentiation, uniqueness, and personal identity yields to sameness.
Analogue refers, in part, to Leonard’s method of making the images. She shot it on a vintage 1940s medium-format Rolleiflex camera and printed using the antiquated chromogenic and gelatin silver processes. The 11 by 11-inch square format is characteristic of the outdated process. Analogue also references the analogous relationships of the subject matter with their seriality and repetition.
There are no humans present in any of the prints, although when viewing the individual images, one imagines the people who worked, shopped, exchanged, lived or were displaced in them. Loss and obsolescence of culture and means are omnipresent. But so is human invention and resourcefulness, as shown in the colorful and cleverly arranged displays or humorously hand painted signs of goods, showcasing the talents of those who made them. In Analogue, Leonard both celebrates the humanity present in the commerce on display, and illuminates in somber realism its inevitable demise.
Zoe Leonard Analogue
Hauser and Wirth, Los Angeles
October 27, 2018 – January 20, 2019
(photographs by author)