Since the early 1990s, New York–based artist Liz Deschenes has produced a singular and influential body of work that has done much to advance photography’s material potential and critical scope. Making use of the medium’s most elemental aspects, namely paper, light, and chemicals, she has recently worked without a camera to produce mirrored photograms that reflect viewers’ movements in time and space. Her carefully calibrated installations of these pieces have probed disparate histories of image production, abstraction, and exhibition-making while also responding to a given site’s unique features.
On November 22, the Walker Art Center opens its newest exhibition, Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, with a gallery talk and reception at 2 pm co-hosted by mnartists.org. For this yearlong installation, Deschenes has transformed the space of the Walker’s seventh-floor gallery with a photographic intervention. Eliminating the room’s temporary architecture to reveal its east-facing windows, she has allowed natural light into the space and installed a series of free-standing rectangular panels. These large-scale abstractions, which occupy the space of the viewer more than the conventional space of the photograph, result from the artist’s distinctive silver-toned photogram process as well as her new experiments in digital pigment printing on acrylic.
Deschenes produces her photograms by exposing sheets of photosensitive paper to the ambient light of night before washing them with silver toner—a process contingent on temperature and humidity. The resulting images offer a foggy, mirrored cast, reflecting the viewers who encounter them as well as the spatial context of their display. Since these materials are prone to oxidation, her photograms “develop” slowly over time, changing color and sheen.
More recently, Deschenes has begun to employ digital pigment printing on acrylic to produce large blue monochromes that can be viewed in the round. Her chosen colors are derived from the printing industry’s Blue Wool Scale, a professional standard used by conservators to gauge the lightfastness of pigments ranging from textile dyes to oil paint. With a surface not unlike the texture of ground glass, these new pieces capture and refract incidental light, suggesting a photographic calibration of the gallery’s space.
The temporal and spatial implications of these two imaging processes—one alchemical and reflective, the other digital and absorptive—find a particular context within the history of the Walker and its seventh-floor gallery. Her title for the exhibition, Gallery 7, which is the former name for the current Medtronic Gallery, orients us toward the past. Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes’s original designs for the Walker’s 1971 building and curator Lucy Lippard’s 1973 group show c. 7,500, featuring work by an all-women roster of conceptual artists, were important points of departure for Deschenes’s intervention here. Finally, the artist has chosen to fit the space of her installation with a picture-hanging rail system reminiscent of the one used in the Walker’s now demolished 1927 building, further collapsing the institution’s spatial histories of site and display.
Recently described by the New York Times as “one of the quiet giants of post-conceptual photography,” Liz Deschenes has exhibited her work regularly since receiving her BFA in 1988 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. She has recently mounted exhibitions at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York; Campoli Presti, London and Paris; Secession, Vienna; and Sutton Lane, Paris and Brussels. Featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, she is most recently the recipient of the 2014 Rappaport Prize awarded by the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Her work is represented in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Since 2006, she has been a member of the faculty of Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.