all photos: Dakota Fine
This Saturday, CORCORAN will open doors to Alex Prager’s first ever solo museum show “Face In The Crowd” and you should run, not walk to it. This review could frankly stop right there but we do have a fair amount of thoughts and feelings about it, and we feel compelled to share them so, here we go…
Alex Prager has been steadily and tirelessly shooting and filming for the past ten years, slowly but surely gaining steam in the trecherously crowded fine art photography and film world. Most people would probably list her 2009 “The Big Valley” show at Yancey Richardson gallery in NY as the time they first consciously became aware of her work and while she has steadily shown in NY, LA, Europe and, most recently, Savannah, DC has never had the slightly disturbing pleasure of seeing her stuff on our home territory.
All that changed when Kaitlin Booher, Assistant Curator of Photography and Media Arts at the Corcoran was asked which contemporary photographer she would love to work with on her first solo curating show at the Gallery, and she, not doubting her answer for even a second said Alex Prager’s name straight away. The rest is sort of a meet-cute art rom com history of sorts: she reached out to Alex, Alex responded and offered to do something new and bigger than Booher even anticipated and the two of them went on their way to create this show.
Over the course of four days, employing extras as well family and friends (a fair amount of whom, including her sister Vanessa who is in every photo, were at the show opening on Thursday), Prager transformed a soundstage in Hollywood into a set of urban discomfort and set the scene for what was to become “A Face In the Crowd”, a series of eight photos and one short film focusing on “upholding a portrait of the individual within the complexity of the crowd”. Inspired by old Hollywood and modern alienation, the work is vividly colored, ambitiously shot and quietly unsettling at all times.
Walking into the gallery which hosts the images, one has an almost instant visceral reaction – each of these people, in these dense, “where’s Waldo?” settings is DEMANDING your personal attention, their faces both blank and relatable, their interactions both hyper-stylized and evocative of the awkwardness we all have felt when touching shoulders with complete strangers or having just a few inches of sand separate our naked thighs. While they seem almost vintage in spirit (Prager has listed everything from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times to Roy Andersson’s poem of a movie Songs From The Second floor as throwback inspirations, some of which will be shows at the Corcoran as part of the ALEX PRAGER SELECTS movie series, which you should pencil in too) they are also both very much of THIS TIME, and therefore maybe simply timeless?
The culmination of the show is the 11 minute short (starring Elizabeth Banks, the only obviously recognizable face in the sea of faces in the exhibit) which shows behind a black curtain at the end of the main gallery space. Once you’re in though, you’re in. The movie is shown immersively, projected from three different sides so that you, the viewer, are thrown right into Prager’s crowd and become part of the experience itself. (see the film trailer in laptop friendly form here).
The result is an amplified version of all the feelings you were feeling in the main gallery, a mix of thrill, claustrophobia and curiosity you just can’t shake off even as you leave the room.
Prager has been shooting crowds for years (and to quote her recent TIME interview: “trying to shoot crowds and failing to shoot crowds and sometimes figuring out how to do crowds for the past four or five years”) and an adjacent gallery allows a glimpse into that fraught history, showing some of her earlier photos including Crowd #1 (Stan Douglas) which was both shown at MoMA in 2010 and published in W Magazine, a publication Prager has an ongoing relationship with, and which is the media sponsor of the show (Bottega Veneta rounds out the decidedly it girl exhibit supporter vibe)
The show, which we are wont to repeat, you should check out as soon as possible (which means, starting this Saturday) is also a good reminder of the exceptional photography work Corcoran has been presenting, and further firms it up as one of THE places to see some of the most inspired shows in the genre in the country. “A Face In The Crowd” arrives at the heels of Taryn Simon’s, Charlotte Dumas’, Edward Burtynsky’s and William Eggleston’s shows all of which were banner photography moments. Fingers and toes crossed this is just the start.
Alex Prager’s FACE IN THE CROWD runs November 23rd – March 9th, and make sure to click here for more details and programming surrounding it: http://www.corcoran.org/exhibitions/alex-prager and while you’re there, make sure to check out Mia Feuer’s An Unkindness as well. Girl Power season at the Corcoran is in full swing, apparently.