Long Life Cool White: Photographs by Moyra Davey

, Fogg Museum
  • Moyra Davey, Shure, 2003. C-print, 24 x 20 in. Collection of the artist. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

  • Bone

    Bone

    Moyra Davey's Bone is the third component (reading left to right) of a triptych entitled Calendar of Flowers, Gin Bottles, Steak Bones; underneath this larger heading each work has an individual title: Blow, Bloom, Bone. Each "arrangement" is a unique work. Bone contains several highly autobiographical images: a picture of the artist and her son looking down at their feet, a black and white photo taken while Davey was a graduate student at UCSD of her then boyfriend's (now husband Jason Simon) foot, as well as a series of shots of empty booze bottles (Sapphire Gin, Sky vodka, Johnnie Walker and Crown Royal) staged in ways that capture the light, around the interior of her Manhattan apartment. So too we see a photographed still-a self portrait-from the artist's video 50 Minutes, as well as an image of the artist's dog, Bella, looking out of the window. All of these images are punctuated by the recurring motive of steak bones, each scrubbed clean and drying as they undergo their inevitable transformation into dust. The affect of the work is more than the sum of its parts-as the piece touches on and connotes many of Davey's central themes and motifs: the passage of time (signaled through shifting light and drained bottles) the interior as a space of intimacy and isolation (the image with her son, the dog, and the exterior of the decaying prison), the role of reading (the picture of books by Chekhov and Cheever, both authors consumed with what Freud would call the family drama), and the inevitability of death.

Fogg Museum

This exhibition—the artist’s first in a major museum—presents an overview of artist and writer Moyra Davey’s 20-year career summarized in 40 photographs. Her modest images—newspapers, books, money, empty bottles, and the accumulation of objects on the tops of refrigerators—prick us into a state of increased awareness about the everyday life that both surrounds us and that we are immersed in. Her work stands as a quiet, passionate rejoinder to the hyper-staged quality of much contemporary photography, which Davey sees as bound up with the intense commercialization of the art world.

In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Davey has written an essay entitled “Notes on Photography and Accident,” a rumination on the themes of death, suicide, and time that run through the writings on photography of Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Janet Malcolm, and Susan Sontag.

Organized by Helen Molesworth, Houghton Curator of Contemporary Art, Fogg Museum.

Davey’s video Fifty Minutes is on view in the exhibition Two or Three Things I Know About Her, also curated by Helen Molesworth, at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, February 28–April 6, 2008.