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Art review: Rena Small at Jancar

July 22, 2010 |  5:45 pm

300.MALL IN THE BLACK 79 24X20 JANCAR George Eastman introduced the user-friendly Kodak camera in 1888 with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.” Nearly a century later, in 1972, Dr. Edwin Land unveiled the Polaroid SX-70, upping the offer from conveniently returned photos in the mail to images spit out immediately by the camera: “You touch the button, you have the picture.”

Every step in the technological evolution of photography has been accompanied by a release of new aesthetic potential. With the advent of instant photography, artists had a new tool that lent itself particularly well to recording the private and performative. Lucas Samaras is probably the best known artist to have used the Polaroid to capture his ever-shifting self. Rena Small is among the lesser-known, which renders her show of work from 1975-82 at Jancar an instructive art history lesson.

400. CENSORSHIP 79 4- 3X3 JANCAR Small, who earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees from CalArts in the ‘70s, engaged in serious play with her Polaroid. Working in both snapshot-size and 20 x 24-inch formats, she pictured herself, mostly nude, riffing on icons (the Statue of Liberty, Christ and his cross), fashion standards (in black with pearls, or peeking out from behind an ostrich feather fan), and most interestingly, the politics of sexual display. In a 1979 sequence of four small photographs, Small poses on her back, hands behind her head, her body splayed in seductive availability. The graceless strips of black tape across her nipples constitute a mocking jab at “Self-Censorship.”

Small’s work is fairly smart and witty, but ultimately says less about its maker than its moment. Women’s self-examined roles and images were among the hottest of topics when these pictures were made (think Eleanor Antin, Suzy Lake, Lynn Hershman before her, Cindy Sherman concurrent); grids and multiples among the commonest of formats; and the Polaroid SX-70 among the radically accessible new means (another being the portable video recorder) for experimentation.

--Leah Ollman

Jancar Gallery, 961 Chung King Rd., (213) 625-2522, through July 31. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

Images: In the Black (top) and Self Censorship. Courtesy of Jancar Gallery.