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San Francisco: Lee Friedlander: Mannequin


Mannequin” is really an exciting new body of work on view at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco.

The five decades of constant outpouring of work really culminates with this project. This collection of mannequins in storefront windows was assembled over three years from stores in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. No one can create a self-imposed conceptual/compositional challenge and work it like Friedlander. He maintains the discipline of the challenge: looking at today’s values and zeitgeist through the relationship of the contents of a store window and the reflections from the glass in front of it. It is as if Atget and Uelsmann (now so very out of fashion) had collided in Friedlander’s brain and this is what emerged.

As always, the images are layered with content and meaning. In the past, Friedlanders portraits of the American social landscape have been sobering, but with this work you don’t really have to go there. When you have mannequins standing in for the human element, alientation is a given. One acknowledges this white noise of modern life and proceeds from there. After all, we all still have a very active inner experience.

The catalogue is designed with a pop aesthetic and it begins with (spoiler alert…) slightly shocking but amusing song lyrics and ends with a curiously dismissive quote . In between one explores a vast and layered terrain through which many paths can be hacked. Well, there are some clues about the direction of the journey. The opening image is of a blond, sexy mannequin with a fuzzy halo over her head. We see part of Friedlander’s reflection in the lower corner, the streetscene on a sunny day compete with tree and fluffy clouds. So, right at the starting block we have all the components of the contradictory, funny, sad, and poignant bits of our life. The second image, however, tells us clearly that not only is this work about us looking in on the life of the mannequin/modern woman, but the mannequin is looking out at us. As brilliant composition shows a mannequin leaning out over a reflection having a good look at what is out on the street.

As I was viewing the show at the Fraenkel gallery I saw an image of mannequins in lingerie and one looked like she was holding an auction paddle. I read “Agent Provacateur” and when I stepped out of the building on the street I saw the store across the way. I suppose Friedlander snapped that shot when he was visiting his dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel.

From there the work proceeds to bogle the mind with the interplay between the contexual messages and symbolism, the collage effect of the compressed spatial depth, the sly juxtapostiions of element, the interplay between the urban environment, the natural environment and the graphic abstract shapes and on and on. There is endless inquiry in these images. The best thing to do is simply go and enjoy this wonderful work in person if you can.

Review by Melanie Light

Mannequin – Lee Friedlander
From May 3rd through June 23rd
Fraenkel Gallery
49 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA
T : 415.981.2661

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