Whitehot Magazine

They Are Us: Sandy Skoglund Classic “Outtakes”

Sandy Skoglund, The Conversation, 1992/2021. Pigmented ink print, 16” x 20”. Edition of 30.

Sandy Skoglund: Outtakes

Rule Gallery

September 2 through October 15, 2022

By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, September 2022

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” 

– Anais Nin

Sandy Skoglund’s remarkable photographic and sculptural installation work has always played an important role in late twentieth century western fine art history. While contemporaries like Cindy Sherman and David LaChappelle rose to prominence in the 1980s for serialized, character-based, retro film stills and highly stylized celebrity commercial magazine portraits, respectively, Skoglund’s supernatural interior tableaux landscapes took us to another fantastic dimension altogether – akin to South American literary magic realism – which set audience sights in ostensibly mundane worlds that surprisingly engulf their soul and simultaneously draw strict sensory attention. 

Skoglund’s mature works from that crucial period of practice in New York, up through the early aughts, has been lauded over the decades for its elaborate patterned set-ups, high color contrast, and stark, dreamy subject matter. It’s critical to recognize that a single artist devised, sculpted, painted, staged, lit and captured the work by hand during a period when there wasn’t much choice in the matter-of-fabrication. Even though it seems improbable, upon a cursory glance at the myriad of woodland creatures that often populate her works, we’re reminded how much Sandy resides in each and every one of her pictures.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Skoglund in July of this year on the Apple Podcast, Art World: Whitehot Magazine and asked a battery of questions about her formative years – both in life and in the studio. What I learned was that after an early beginning in Massachusetts, she moved periodically with family as work called upon her father. By the mid-50s, she and her brother contracted polio, both recovering together in isolation on a hospital barge; something, she speculates, that haunts her subconscious to this day. I asked her about the wild foxes, cats, goldfish and even cheese doodles that take hold of the rooms she shoots and cover seemingly every inch, like a virulent infection on the replication run.

After emerging from the life of a painter during the dominance of minimal and conceptual art in the late 1970s, Sandy sought to enliven the austere, repeated elements commonly found in the works of those movements and provide more than a modicum of mystery, a dash of drama and nearly no narrative to speak, but, instead, a state-of-being scenario utterly suspended and upended. These have become the classic signature works that define Skoglund’s art to this day. And for the first time in her forty-plus year artistic career, we get to see alternative imagery from each of the limited edition classics in the form “Outtakes,” a new solo exhibition at Rule Gallery in the tiny town of Marfa, Texas, an important art oasis, ironically, developed by the late minimalist sculptor Donald Judd.

Nearly twenty pieces comprise Skoglund’s new show, from bold, free-standing, short-run, cast polyester resin editions of burnt orange fish sculptures like “Flame” (2022/1981) to modest-sized archival pigment prints like “Early Morning,” an outtake of her famous “Revenge of the Goldfish” Cibachrome photo that reveals the edge of the frame and studio set created for the image. In these works, we gain access to the rich, intricate process and unique location of creation, a private view of a mysterious world. But we begin to piece parts of the whole and realize that no unified narrative exists.

One thing I have always loved about Skoglund’s work is the overlap, the elision and the ultimate cohabitation – however visually contrasted – between two seemingly different worlds, populated by two seemingly different sets of beings bound by circumstance and location. It’s a fine reminder to keep cool and stay warm in the face of perceived, nominal and ultimately elective conflict that humans have distinctly created over time beyond our survival on Earth. It’s no wonder that animals dominate Skoglund’s interior landscapes. Even the most ravenous of animals pictured can dance delightfully across a room of evening human diners, fill up fast and move on beyond the picture plane into yet another world, raising acute awareness and intrigue, but little fear in cohabitators and viewing audiences. 

When I see an individual sculpture like “Trust” (2022/1990) that depicts a baby dog in deep Yves Klein blue paint looking up to imagined adult leadership figures or “Cautious Hope” (2022/1981), a life-size, nuclear green housecat hunched and braced for the unknown, I feel like these figures act as surrogates for Skoglund. She recognized the strength of city cats as an adult, as well as grew up with small pets, like Buddy, the beagle, and a gaggle of ducks, even. She sculpted the cats as a “homage to their survival,” but also in recognition of the horror that humans, in some ways, “allowed” the perilous and pernicious circumstances that became the urban environment we created for them. “In the end, they actually mean everything to me – psychically and psychologically,” explained Skoglund. “To me, they are us. They’re comforting because we think they are us. They are a mirror. Looking into the eyes of an animal – dog, a cat – is like looking into another universe. It’s a universe I can’t know. It’s a universe with a brain, with a consciousness. And like so many things in life, if we can get out of our own skin, and experience something else – particularly, ourselves from another point of view – it’s very healthy, very healing and kind of miraculous.”

Sandy Skoglund, Trust, 1990/2021. Cast polyester resin on bronze pedestal, 8.5” x 10.75” x 6.5”. Edition 1 of 30.

And now audiences can see just what miracles Skoglund has conjured up to help us perceive ourselves through the eyes and circumstances of the wild in these newly revealed works of classics. 

Sandy Skoglund’s artwork is now on view in the solo exhibition “Outtakes” at Rule Gallery from September 2 – October 15. WM


Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

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