Sterling Art Services

Unglazed Works: Rabih Mroué’s “The Fall of a Hair: Blow Ups” 2012

Paper exists in almost infinite variations, and can be incredible strong as well as beautiful.  And high quality papers are desirable for making works of art, whether media is applied by hand, inkjet, or other means.  But speaking very broadly, it’s safe to say that the majority of papers will degrade or will in some other way be unduly affected by exposure to atmosphere which can soil, acidify, and otherwise compromise—conditions which glazing, as part of a framing package, can greatly protect against.  Some preservationists theorize that oxidation is a culprit, perhaps a greater one than light, in the loss of color from delicate works of art on paper.  Additionally, physical damage is more likely to occur with unglazed works of art on paper, from wind, touching, accidental tearing or crushing.  There are many good reasons to use glazing in housing and presenting artworks.

Still, sometimes certain considerations, whether artistic, curatorial, budgetary, or other, lead to a commitment to show certain artworks in an unglazed state—or at least a conversation is raised by artists about the pros and cons of doing so.  On a recent visit to MoMA, I viewed Rabih Mroué’s suite of pigment prints, “The Fall of a Hair: Blow Ups” 2012.  Using the visual language of cell phone photographs, the pixelated images powerfully suggest realtime violent encounters between shooters and Syrian protestors who digitally record them.

The presentation of these works, while lacking any frames, is typical for this artist with consistently bordered and sized images; a tactile beckoning from the glossy smoothness of the paper; and a neat installation functionally hung with carefully and consistently placed binder clamps.  The artistic/curatorial choices to present the work this way represent a thoughtfulness of presentation using the most minimal visual frame:  the white border of each print.  From a viewing perspective, these are quite possibly more powerful looking images in their vulnerable, unglazed state, than they would ever be shadowboxed into a suite of frames.  They are worthy of study by artists who yearn to show photographic works unglazed.

Altogether, the visual language of the works, the media and format used to make them;  the way they are produced and installed, support the complex issues and feelings which arise in their viewing.  It’s worth noting, too, that the images on display are also exhibition copies made with anticipated damages, such as almost happened when I saw someone stroll briskly past them, creating enough stir to suck a couple of the prints into his passing wake.  The preservationist in me cringes—but the artist in me is thrilled by the way the paper moves.

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