Anne Collier

Anne Collier
Art Gallery of Ontario
On view until January 10, 2016

Anne Collier’s solo exhibition, currently on view at the AGO, presents an overview of the artist’s photography from 2002 to the present. The fourth floor of the Contemporary Tower offers a roomy backdrop to Collier’s larger-than-life photographs, all of which capture an array of printed matter that includes negatives, photographs, records, magazines, books, and postcards. Collier’s photographs adeptly reference art history, sexism, and the representation of women (particularly in photography), and the cult(ure) of self-help. Two Marilyn Monroe albums sit side by side in Double Marilyn (2007), evoking the repetition of Warhol; in Zoom 1978 (2009), a nude woman’s head is replaced with an oversized camera on a vintage cover of Zoom, an Italian photography magazine; the personality questionnaire in First Person (2009) seems exhausting, infinite, and familiar.

Among this collection of works, I was struck not just by the stark decontextualization of the material culture pictured, but by its presence—collected, selected, and photographed by the artist over so many years, scooped up from their previous lives, and entered into a new one. I couldn’t help but imagine what was collected and not photographed, or photographed but not exhibited; Collier (surely an archivist as well as a documentarian) must possess an incredible library of history through print.

Collier’s approach to photographing these found and collected objects is often described as “deadpan”; however, that’s too cold a word for me. Though these objects are indeed photographed in a documentary fashion, the power of this exhibition lies in the tiny details that signify human touch. While Double Marilyn nods to Warhol, its subject—the album covers—also emphasizes the varied ways that two copies of the same album could be handled and loved by its previous (and likely multiple) owners. Each copy has faded slightly (though distinctly) in its own sunbeam, carrying with it a provenance despite its mass-production. This effect of touch is carried into Zoom 1978, where two copies of the same magazine are photographed side by side. It is jarring, indeed, to see a woman’s body whose head has been lopped off and replaced by a massive camera, yet seeing the publications side by side highlights the ways in which each copy has evolved, carrying distinctive characteristics as individual beings might: microscopic tears, curls, and creases made by the many hands that flipped through each copy, readers either titillated or revolted by the cover. On an adjacent wall, more ephemera: I can picture a once-pristine Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Miesel) (2007) reverently affixed to a teenager’s wall until it wasn’t anymore.

Touch is everywhere in this exhibition, and its evidence points to the lives of the objects being documented. In Woman With a Camera (The Last Sitting, Burt Sturn) (2009), the multicoloured sticky notes around the edges of a book containing Burt Sturn’s last portrait of Monroe create a radiant halo around the iconic picture, evidence of Collier’s own recurrent and marked perusal of the publication. In her Open Book series (2009–), we are shown the artists hands, literally holding open to us expansive photographic views to the cosmos and the sea.

It is when Collier reveals herself, literally and figuratively, that her works become most resonant. 8 x 10 (Jim) and 8 x 10 (Lynda) (2007) show a pair of images, each atop a stack of prints in opened photographic-paper boxes. These pictures of the Pacific Ocean document the location where Collier scattered both of her parents’ ashes. When you stand far enough away, it is easy to mistake the golden glow of the boxes’ borders for gilded frames, and it is clear, then, that these are Collier’s photographs of her own photographs, bringing with them her own history. And in this we are left to wonder the stories of all the other objects she has so carefully culled for us with her lens.