Noir Universe

Alex Prager ‘s pulp fiction

CityArts April 18 2012

If you like your art and cinema on the pulp side, I highly recommend you cakewalk over to Yancey Richardson Gallery to see the latest Technicolor noir dreams of Alex Prager. This exhibition marks the debut of her newest film, La Petite Mort, and an accompanying exhibition of photographs entitled Compulsion.

Prager’s Technicolor world gives a wink and a nod to the films of Douglas Sirk and the stories of Jim Thompson; plus a little touch of a Cindy Sherman influence as well. There’s always a dame in trouble, though in Prager’s universe, the man who put her there is unseen and unnamed.

Trembling, fragile and on the verge of tears, the women who inhabit these films and photos are dreamlike throwbacks to a fantasy of an earlier age. They are not anti-feminist as much as they are oblivious to a world with any other possibilities. This is precisely what makes these works so fabulous and, yes, even moving; there is not a hint of irony in them.

Prager has created a perfectly logical universe inhabited by beautiful dames and broads and a supporting cast of impressively brutish extras. Because Prager’s women are the tremulous center of her universe, it is part of the logic that everyone else is a much a caricature as the heroine. They are as universally unattractive as she is universally ravishing.

The film La Petite Mort was shot by acclaimed cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Black Swan). It takes place in the split second between life and death…or does it? The production values, costumes, effects and music are those of a big-budget film and they perfectly complement the six-minute roller coaster ride.

The second part of the exhibition, Compulsion, is a series of photographic diptychs. They are large photographs, each portraying a scene of terrible human disaster with a second smaller, accompanying photo that is a close-up of an eye. They are hugely disquieting, but somehow alluring to look at.

A woman has fallen and is dangling off the side of an electrical tower that dwarfs her lifeless body. Another woman clings desperately to a car bumper as it flies through the air. The photographs are printed in the same lurid colors as the films. They draw us in and then wham—that giant eye reminds us that we are the voyeur, staring at a grisly scene. Then that tug of the beauty of the first image pulls us closer again.

This is a tremendously exciting and sophisticated show. Prager, a self-taught photographer, is hooked into a visual sensibility that is both compelling and provocative. And she shoots a swell-looking bunch of dames to boot.

Alex Prager: Compulsion
Through May 19, Yancey Richardson Gallery.
535 W. 22nd St., 3rd Fl., 646-230-9610,

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