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An empty kitchen with yellow cabinets and 2 barbells on the floor in front of a stove
An empty kitchen with yellow cabinets and 2 barbells on the floor in front of a stove

Shaun Pierson, Untitled (52 Smith Street), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

The exhibition delves into the mysteries and emotions buried beneath the surface of a photograph

After midnight, when the streets are empty and the houses dark, even the softest of rustles can seem unbearably intense. That is the feeling conveyed by the beautiful exhibition of photography at Luhring Augustine gallery, on view until June 8. It encompasses the work of seven artists, who span generations, genders, and ethnicities, each in their own way reticent and inscrutable, some stirringly so. Unlike many recent shows, in Tiptoeing Through the Kitchen, no intellectual scaffolding demands dismantling, and it leaves the omnipresence of digital technology out of discussion. Instead, it focuses on intimate personal revelations, but only in bits and pieces—the sort of wounded, whispered half-words that simmer with tension.

The young Brooklyn-based photographer Shaun Pierson emerges as the star of the group. His most potent portraits involve men old enough to be his grandfather. In this show, a work features one of them kneeling down and turning the camera back on Pierson, who reclines nude on a draped table. Propped up on his right elbow, he echoes a bushy-browed, mustachioed Olympia. A few test shots line the wall behind him, each pointing to a different part of his body. The work, like Manet’s 1863 masterpiece, straddles a divide between explicit eroticism and a kind of raunchy sexlessness. The result is striking if uneasy.

Equally weird, but more kitschy, is the work of the Iranian-American artist Sheida Soleimani. Her abundant use of toy-like sceneries and props gives her tableaux a comically deadpan drama. A tremendous portrait shows two elders whose faces are obscured by paper cutouts, one playing the role of patient, the other her doctor. Then there is a zany shot of three baby birds trampling one another for a single berry fed from a tweezer, followed by a picture of a raven lying stiffly on its back, a walnut in its beak. A possible paradox unfolds about old age as a second childhood, but also the infantilizing nature of elderly care.

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