Sara Cwynar may be a familiar name to some, and if so, it's likely for those who know her as a graphic designer, formerly at The New York Times Magazine. By night, she makes art, and by that we mean really good art that's not just the work of someone who considers art their hobby or side-hustle.
Last month, she had a solo exhibition at Foxy Production in New York titled "Flat Death," which literally suggested a peculiar yet familiar "death" of the two-dimensional photograph as we know it. It mirrored an earlier exhibition at Cooper Cole Gallery in Toronto, which followed an equally destructive, messier exhibition at the gallery titled "Everything in the Studio (Destroyed)."
Piece from "Everything in the Studio (Destroyed)" exhibition
At this year's NADA New York, Cwynar had the full booth at Cooper Cole, showing pieces specifically from the "(Darkroom Manual)" part of her work. These pieces are easily the most accessible, as they provide immediacy and images that are both clear and clearly being destroyed. However, this destruction is lightly technicolor and beautiful, at once discussing the old, analog tools of photography and the many transformative qualities of its process. Her works look to be precisely made, even though they appear to be more concerned with imperfection and imprecision.
Pieces at Cooper Cole Gallery's NADA booth
Outside of her darkroom manual work, Cwynar's pieces explore the meaning of history and its relation to both decay and censorship. In discussing pieces like Contemporary Floral Arrangement 4 (A Compact Mass) (below), Cwynar told Interview,
"People will often look at the floral still lifes I make and say, "Yeah, this is kitsch, so what's the point?" But the more meaningful version of kitsch is that even the darkest moments in our history can become however we want to remember them. Images play a large contribution to how that happens, creating a specific history that everyone knows and remembers, and erases what happened before."
A concern with history is certainly a thread throughout her work, but it appears particularly bold and alluring in the "(Darkroom Manual)" pieces. So it's no wonder that the gallery would single out these works on their own for a highly trafficked (and highly regarded) fair like NADA.
Contemporary Floral Arrangement 4 (A Compact Mass)
While NADA brought a lot of solid work this year, and plenty from emerging artists, Cwynar's pieces draw you in and make you want to spend a little more time with them. It will be exciting to see where she takes her explorations of photography and history next.