Merry Alpern, Harry Gruyaert : Société / Spectacle

3/02 - 30/04 2022

Virtual tour
The spring 2022 exhibition at Galerie Miranda brings together two cult and pioneering photographic series, Dirty Windows by Merry Alpern and TV Shots by Harry Gruyaert, in a reflection on the convergence since the 1960s of real life with screen life and on the commoditisation of the human experience.

Merry Alpern : Dirty Windows (1983), Shopping (1999)

In the winter of 1993, photographer Merry Alpern visited a friend’s New York loft, situated in the Wall Street district. He led her to a back room and from his window, one floor below, she could see a tiny bathroom window from which pounded the heavy bass of nightclub music. She realized that she was looking into the bathroom of an illegal lap-dance club, where "stock-brokers and other well-to-do businessmen handed over hundreds of dollars and drugs to women in G-strings and black lace." Transfixed by the spectacle, the artist started taking pictures of what she saw, using a fast black and white film that gave the photos a peep-show quality. In 1994 she submitted the series to the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) only to find her work, along with that of co-candidates Andres Serrano, and Barbara DeGenevieve, rejected and vilified by conservatives who sought to undermine the NEA, creating a huge debate that paradoxically served to promote the series.

Acquired by major museums worldwide, the series has since become a reference point for exhibitions on female exploitation, surveillance, censorship and the female gaze. In 1999, following the Dirty Windows series, Merry Alpern produced the series Shopping whereby, equipped with a tiny surveillance camera and a video camcorder hidden in her discreetly perforated purse, Alpern wandered through department stores, malls, and fitting rooms, capturing women enthralled in a mesh of consumerism and vanity. Printed as video stills, the grainy images titillate with messages of the taboo and confidential. The women try on clothes, inspect their bodies, squeeze into stockings and skirts, and gently fondle luxury products—lost in a host of private emotions and desires while existing in a very public space. Galerie Miranda will present selected signed and limited-edition vintage prints from Dirty Windows as well as a unique work of vintage film stills from the series Shopping.

Harry Gruyaert, TV shots (1972)

In the 70s in London, Harry Gruyaert made photographs of the distorted screens of a cathodic ray tube television: “I was living in London in the early 70s and there was a crazy television set in my house. By playing around with the antenna and tweaking the controls I could suddenly obtain fascinating colours. This led me to spend a couple of months following the latest news as it happened from the first Apollo flights to the Munich Olympic Games, as well as American and English television series and ads. In those days, VCRs didn’t yet exist, let alone the ability to freeze frames or rewind. I was therefore face to face with current events, camera in hand and sometimes very close to the screen so I could frame things differently. Had there been more technical means at my disposal at the time, I think that the images wouldn’t have been as good or as fresh."
His abstract and experimental images have a pop-art fascination with the everyday whilst acting as a document of the way millions of people experienced world-shaping events in the 1970s through their home televisions; "When I discovered Pop Art in New York at the end of the 60s I realised that you could look at our consumer society differently, with both insight and a sense of humour. I felt a great admiration for artists such as Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Nam June Paik....I had thus become a kind of bedroom reporter confronted with the “society of spectacle”, in front of this factory of universal thought.”
The work created controversy when first exhibited in 1974, with its iconoclastic assault on the culture of television and its radical challenge to the conventions of press photography. Initially shown at the Delpire Gallery in Paris followed by the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels and International Center of Photography, New York, the images were printed on long rolls of photographic paper 50cm wide and then hung side by side on the wall, creating a kind of gigantic, terrifying fresco. Galerie Miranda will propose selected signed and limited- edition vintage and contemporary prints from the series.