• Anna Maltz and Simen Johan: Two Reviews
  • Natasha, Peter, Zack and Imogen (2004), Anna Maltz

  • Anna Maltz and Simen Johan: Two Reviews
  • Untitled 118 (2004), Simen Johan

Anna Maltz: One Size Fits All

Natasha, Peter, Zack and Imogen pose against a garden trellis, bathed in the soft light of a spring afternoon. Man and wife, with one boy and one girl, they are the very embodiment of the wholesome nuclear family…except that they’re all naked. Sort of.

In fact, they’re clad head to toe in hand-knitted mohair bodysuits, from which sprout gender-appropriate appendages and thick strands of body hair. Naked suits, if you will. Mom stares blankly ahead, her pillowy pink breasts askew, as her little girl reaches over to poke at dad’s fuzzy knitted member. Father and brother look on, grinning. Somehow, perhaps because the suits are so goofy and the subjects so clearly delighted, this scenario manages not to be creepy.

In Anna Maltz’s new series One Size Fits All, families of various configurations don the same suits and pose for conventional portraits, to riotous effect. Julia, Sandra, Katie & Jazz, San Francisco make the case for the two-mommy family (though one gamely dons the daddy suit). Sarah, Peter, Ariel, Calypso, Lola & Arthur, London, are a glowing clan straight out of Rubens - or perhaps Darger, given that the little girls sport tiny penises. Maltz has also created a superman outfit and a mermaid suit, worn to great effect by her bemused subjects.

Whether Maltz is challenging traditional definitions of family and gender, exploring societal taboos or simply having a ball dressing up her friends, these images aptly convey both the tension and liberation of slipping into a costume to become someone new.

Anna Maltz: One Size Fits All is on view at Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery, 49 Geary Street, 4th floor, San Francisco, CA. For more information, call 415-229-1138 or visit www.lizabetholiveria.com.

Simen Johan: Breeding Ground
Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco
through February 28, 2004

Simen Johan’s photographs are resolutely theatrical. Frustrated, like many contemporary artists, by the patience required to freeze a chance moment of exceptional beauty or perversion on film, Johan carefully constructs his own moments. He deploys elaborate sets, expert lighting, digital editing and, occasionally, demonic child actors to effect his unsettling vision. The images that result divulge glimpses of a realm that is as creepy as it is alluring; a dreamy attic domain that seems to extend well beyond the limits of the frame, both physically and temporally.

Many of these unsettling images seem the sticky residue of actions long since forgotten. One photograph from the Breeding Ground series (all are untitled) reveals an expanse of snow littered with the nubby remains of hundreds of half-melted snowmen, like a jostling crowd of beachgoers left stranded by winter’s icy touch. In another, light filters through the stained-glass rosettes of a forlorn belfry. Strung from the rafters is an ornate spider web of colored thread and bright beads, itself covered with dusty cobwebs - a tiny miracle, overlooked by the fire and brimstone crowd in the church below.

The raw possibility and magic of childhood is central to Johan’s work, though children themselves are largely absent. In one of the series’ more grotesque images, abandoned toys mingle with the carcass of a dead fish in a dirt-smeared sink - the remnants of some grand alchemical experiment gone wrong. In another, a girl tugs maniacally at the cord of her doll as a mountain of other dolls with severed limbs threatens to avalanche just behind her. The absurd narratives suggested by these tableaus are never spelled out for us; instead, Johan opens wide the doors of the possible, asking us to dust off our imaginations and revisit the wonderful, terrible world of a child.

Simen Johan: Breeding Ground is on view at Robert Koch Gallery, 49 Geary Street, 5th floor, San Francisco, CA. For more information, call 415-421-0122 or visit www.kochgallery.com..


— Adrienne Gagnon is a freelance arts writer based in Berkeley


Actually, that scenario is quite creepy.