9.13.2013

Q&A: Lisa Kereszi

© Lisa Kereszi

Lisa Kereszi's recent work, featured here, was shortlisted for the 2013 Cord Prize.

Kereszi was born in 1973 in Pennsylvania and grew up in Suburban Philadelphia to a father who ran the family auto junkyard and to a mother who owned an antique shop. In 1995 she graduated from Bard College with a Bachelor of Arts. After college she worked as an assistant to Nan Goldin, and in 2000 she received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Art. She has been on the faculty there as a Lecturer since 2004, now serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Art, and wae was appointed Critic in 2012. She was also a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts MacDowell Fellow.

Her work is in many private collections and in that of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Study Collection at the Museum of Modern Art, the Altoids Curiously Strong Collection of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Norton Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery, among others. Her work has been shown in group shows at the Whitney Museum, MoMA, the Aldrich Museum, the Bronx Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Queens Museum of Art, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Urban Center Gallery at the Municipal Art Society in New York, among many others. She had solo shows in 2002 and 2003 at Pierogi in Brooklyn. She is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, where she had Winter 2005, Spring 2007 and Spring 2009 and 2012 solo shows. Other solo shows include the Galleries at Moore College in Philadelphia, the Alcott Gallery at University of North Carolina in Fall 2006 and also at the Matrix Gallery at UC Berkeley, the latter as part of her 2005 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers.

Her editorial work has appeared in many books and magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Nest, New York, Harper’s, TIME, W, The London Telegraph Sunday Magazine, Details, GQ, Black Book, Jane, Newsweek, House & Garden, Penthouse, Nylon, Orion, Bon Appetit, zingmagazine, Flaunt, wallpaper* and others. Her pictures regularly appeared in The New Yorker’s "Goings on About Town" section. She was included in the 2003 list of the 30 top emerging photographers by Photo District News, and was granted a commission to photograph Governors Island by the Public Art Fund the same year, which culminated in shows at the Urban Center Gallery and the Mayor's Office at City Hall and a 2004 exhibition catalog, Governors Island, as well as a permanent installation on the island.

Three monographs are in print – Fun and Games with Nazraeli Press in 2009, and two with Damiani Editore: Fantasies in 2008 and her latest book, Joe’s Junk Yard, which was released in early Fall 2012. Kereszi lives and works in New Haven.
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© Lisa Kereszi
In editing my recent work, I realized that it was made during a period in which I have had my entire notion of what the medium is forcefully challenged by (so-called?) concept based, forward-thinking images made in what feels like an acting-out against a tradition of straight photography that I entirely trust and believe in. Rather than jumping ship and seeking out newness for newness’s sake, I hold tight to my belief in the power of that plain picture - one made out in the world without hard preconceived, overly thought-out notions - that tells me, and you, something about this place we live in, and your and my place in it. These pictures, then, in homage, are about photography, really, and my attempts to make a sense out of the world by using my camera as an extension of my eye and mind. - Kereszi on her recent work. Full statement here.
fototazo: 
In your statement you write that this work is about photography itself and that it was created during a period in which your notion of the medium was forcefully challenged by concept-based photography. Conceptual photography, at least as part of the Conceptual Art movement goes back to the 60s. Why has your work, after years of working with a faith in straight photography in comfort alongside conceptual photography, come to a point of confrontation with it?

Lisa Kereszi: Right, exactly, yes. Good point. I have been making somewhat, I suppose, "Conceptual" (notice I put it in quotes?) and abstract pictures for years, and even just took some today that I'm really excited about. I have been toying with editing together more of my minimal, myopic, semi-abstract work for several years now. But it's a looking back on what I have already done, and piecing it together, like I can now look back and say that I am now aware of what I had been doing all along with these kinds of pictures, making them alongside details, vignettes and room shots. I didn't set out to make abstractions consciously; it just happened here and there.

As a child of the junkyard, I have always been interested in found art, which I guess is "conceptual," and elevating some everyday object, pointing at it, putting a frame around it, and calling it art. But I feel like that is just part of my job as an artist who uses photography, and that it is nothing special. So, you are right - I have had no problem, and still do not, quoting and referencing the likes of Duchamp, Twombly, etc... However, in my opinion, and it is just that - an opinion - there appears to be a bit too much work being floated in the art world these days that doesn't have a leg to stand on. But some of this work really looks like it does, though; it’s obtuse, and makes a viewer feel quite dumb in not being able to understand or crack the code. I feel like a lot of work is getting held up and supported right now only if it has a "book" of a press release to go along with it.

Photography is a form of communication, so it should communicate something on its own terms to a viewer. I'm not saying it should be super easy to understand, but it seems like a fair number of people are being attracted to just what appears hard, but that which is really just merely opaque, so as to look a lot like it's about some big idea. I am all for great ideas, but maybe there's a need to gestate such ideas longer, before putting them down on inkjet paper. The art world is such oftentimes that it rushes people to press, rushes young artists to show, valuing slick and edgy and difficult-to-understand style over substance. A colleague, Benjamin Donaldson, likes to quote his old teacher, the photographer Nicholas Nixon, who said, "The world is infinitely more interesting than any ideas I have about it." I think those words are a pretty strong case for making pictures out in the world versus the studio. Now, don't misunderstand me and think I'm saying art should not be made in the studio - it can be, and can be done well. And art shouldn't necessarily be all that simple. Einstein said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible." My pictures have some mystery in them, but only just enough, so that there is still somewhere for one's imagination to go when standing in front of the picture.

I love a lot of contemporary art that one would label as conceptual – Matthew Barney and Mike Kelley, for example. It's thought out in a way I can glean on some level, and is unashamed and smart, and still feels new, even today. In a recent lecture, former MoMA curator and current Dean at Yale Robert Storr, spoke in a cautionary manner to students about "Misconceptual Art," which is actually the kind of shallow work that I am really against, and up against.

© Lisa Kereszi



© Lisa Kereszi



© Lisa Kereszi

f: How have your investigations of the themes of fantasy, escapism and loss found in your other projects been affected by this new exploration of photography itself? Is this work presented here still investigating those themes actively? Is it still important for this work to be made in the types of spaces you have been working in?

LK: No, these pictures could be made anywhere – in a parking lot, on a street corner, in the woods. Of course, I remain attracted to those sorts of fantastical spaces, but they are no longer necessary to inspire and grab me. I think this work still investigates some of these themes, in that there are portals, entryways, places to enter and lose oneself, junctures between what is real and what is reflected or a mirage.

© Lisa Kereszi



© Lisa Kereszi

f: To what degree does the exploration of photography itself remain an open subject for your work at this point?

LK: I think this is just the beginning. I think it has come out of teaching, in many ways, because I have to explain how lenses work to the best of my ability, how a camera obscura works, and how to learn to see. Just like the abstraction series I mentioned previously, this group of pictures came out of my looking at what I already had and letting it lead me to a new place. It came out of a love of straight photography, and a desire to put that out there unabashedly. Like a love letter. It's conceived of and edited together the opposite of having some idea that I imposed consciously on the world. When I was a writer, I was a poet, and was miserable at trying to write any kind of fiction. I just have to react against what is already there in front of me – if it's in the real world, or existing only as 2D on paper or the screen.

© Lisa Kereszi



© Lisa Kereszi



© Lisa Kereszi