Liz Deschenes , Tilt/Swing (360º field of vision, version 1), 2009. Black and white photograms mounted on metal Overall 136 x 192 x 58″ (345.4 x 487.7 x 147.3 cm), original installation room dimensions 206 x 192 x 216″ (523.2 x 487.7 x 548.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York . Aquired through the generosity of Agnes Gund, Mimi Haas, Michael Lynne, Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, and Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds. © 2014 Liz Deschenes. Photo: courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York.

Liz Deschenes

Award-winning photographer creates new work for MASS MoCA,
the first solo exhibition in her native Massachusetts.

One of the leading and most respected and influential photographers of her generation, Liz Deschenes takes the fundamental conditions of photography and its display as the subject of her work. Over the past two decades, she has expanded the possibilities of “self-reflexive” or “concrete” photography, making visible the materials and processes of the medium — namely, the interaction of paper, light, and chemicals. She is perhaps known best for her photograms that are produced without a camera. Deschenes returns to her native Massachusetts, showing new work in her first solo exhibition in the state, opening on May 23, 2015, with a reception for the artist.

To create her atmospheric, monochromatic photograms, the artist exposes light-sensitive, silver-gelatin paper to ambient light before toning and fixing it. The variations in natural and artificial light, atmospheric conditions, and chemicals create marbleized, reflective surfaces that take on the look of metal and that continue to oxidize, darken, and change color over time. The complexity of Deschenes’ images is evident in the range of descriptions given them, which range from meditative, elegiac, and somber to playful, captivating, surprising, and mind altering.

The artist’s works often engage directly with their surroundings, the unique architecture, lighting, and history of a space being active participants in the work. “Camera literally means ‘room’ in Latin,” Deschenes explains. In her work, the gallery can become a stand-in for the otherwise absent camera — as well as the traditional darkroom. At MASS MoCA, the natural light flooding through a wall of windows contributes to the constantly shifting appearance of Deschenes’ photographs, which continue to develop over time.

While Deschenes’ works are not representational in a traditional sense, her photographs record the passage of time as well as the changing conditions of the exhibition space, both in the reflections of viewers and their movement in the photographs’ mirror-like surfaces. In many instances, the works’ shaped supports are designed to mimic the shadows and light of a particular site. Deschenes’ photographs often take on sculptural qualities in their three-dimensional configurations and materiality, and also in the way they occupy the exhibition space. The pieces have variously been draped on the floor, hinged at right angles to the wall, situated in corners, or suspended from the ceiling. Both their careful placement and their non-referential images emphasize the viewer’s awareness of his or her own perceptual and physical experience in the gallery.

Deschenes practice is perhaps best described in her own words: “I am interested in photography cultivating a self-reflexive dialogue, while simultaneously reflecting the world at large, and utilizing a vocabulary that integrates concept with form.”

RS39576_LD_Bracket (London)_ InstallationView 2_2013 Courtesy Campoli Presti

Liz Deschenes. Bracket (London) . Installation view. 14 October – 14 December 2013. Campoli Presti, London. Courtesy of Campoli Presti, London / Paris.

RS39569_LD_Bracket4_ 2013 Courtesy Campoli Presti

Liz Deschenes. Bracket 4, 2013. Silver toned silver gelatin print mounted to aluminum. 183 x 91.4 cm / 72 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Campoli Presti, London / Paris.


About the Artist

Born in Boston in 1966, Deschenes earned her B.F.A. at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1988. Since the 1990s, she has been exhibited widely across Europe and North America. Deschenes currently has a project on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and was recently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Secession, Vienna (2012). The artist’s work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions, most notably at the International Center for Photography, New York (2014); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); and the Art Institute of Chicago (2012); and in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Deschenes is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; CCS Bard Hessel Museum, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Art Institute of Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Centre Pompidou, Paris. Recently awarded the deCordova’s 2014 Rappaport Prize, Deschenes is also a professor in the visual arts department at Bennington College. She lives and works in New York.


Related Programming

In conjunction with her solo exhibition, Deschenes chose six artists for participation in a concurrent group exhibition, Artists’ Choice: An Expanded Field of Photography. The work of Dana Hoey, Craig Kalpakjian, Miranda Lichtenstein, Josh Tonsfeldt, Sara VanDerBeek, and Randy West is featured.


This exhibition is supported by a grant from the Artist’s Resource Trust with additional funding provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.


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