Among a mix of uncritical nudity and predictable Warholian imagery, Barry Rosenthal’s photographs of collections were some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking works at the SCOPE International Art Fair in New York. His four images—one of shoes, another of bottles, and two monochromatic pieces featuring various found goods—were simultaneously abstract and figurative, an unusual and challenging rabbit-duck illusion of color, light, and shape.
The photographs do not represent traditional collections, but instead, the rummages Rosenthal finds in New York Harbor. He lays out the pieces on paper and photographs them from above, using no computer manipulation. The angle and monochromatic backgrounds make them appear almost flat, like cut-outs that have been re-photographed, printed, and pasted collage-style. They relinquish their physical dimensionality to intellectual dimensionality. When understanding the life cycle of these objects, from use to trash to art, one begins to ponder the “stuff” of everyday existence. The environmental message is direct, but there is also a nostalgic beauty in uncovering and repurposing discarded goods—perhaps goods that were once meaningful to someone—for visual pleasure.
However, Rosenthal brings our attention to the trash while at once distracting us from it. These photographs are compositions of color, line, and shape. All found objects of blue comprise “Blue Ocean.” In “Shoes,” the eponymous items are lined up in rows and columns—slashes of browns and beiges against a black canvas. “Milk Bottle Tops” (not shown at SCOPE) is akin to a Damien Hirst spot painting. Rosenthal creates beauty and artistry where humanity has created environmental distress.
When you view images from the “Found in Nature” series, do you see a rabbit, or do you see a duck?