I arrived just as the gallery assistant was returning with her lunch. Perfect timing, she said. I wondered vaguely how long her lunch break was. When I worked at a gallery—I was briefly, and disastrously, the gallery director at a furniture store-style gallery in Hollywood—I think I had thirty minutes. Since there is no public space in Hollywood, just restaurants and bars, many of them overpriced, I would sit on the crumbling steps of an abandoned building around the corner. I’m sure that building, too, is now an overpriced café, bar, or restaurant. The gallery assistant ate her lunch as I plodded along the narrow, cramped AE2 gallery, the project gallery of Anat Egbi, looking at “Lighting Matches,” a solo show of photographs by Jo Ann Callis.
In Hands on Ankles (1976), a pair of masculine hands wrap around feminine ankles, clad in ornate heels, standing, disconcertingly, on a chair. They do not appear to be gripping or clutching the ankles, they exert no visible force. Although it seems impossible that somebody standing on a chair in high heels would not fall down immediately, whether or not somebody had their hands on their ankles, there is no implication that the person in high heels is falling, nor that they will fall. It is a disconcerting image with a disconcertingly matter-of-fact title, an image that feels strikingly contemporary from more than 40 years ago. It made me feel uneasy and a little strange, especially standing in such a small space with someone eating their lunch. It was shocking.
I had a similar feeling looking at these photos and wondering what would have happened to the history of image-making if this was the basis for “shocking” is, rather than wholly un-shocking images of violence, street people, drug use, sad/sexy teenagers, etc., as I did a few months ago at the Rufino Tamayo, looking at Nancy Spero and wondering what would have happened to the history of improvised music would be like if the critics and artists who developed that culture had been obsessed with Nancy Spero and her understanding of gesture, motif, humor, and repetition, instead of being obsessed with the ejaculatory domineering of the Abstract Expressionists.