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Catherine Wagner
Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco
Recommendation by Chérie Louise Turner

Well worn classic books, one image of the closed volume paired with one open, share one striking trait in Catherine Wagner's series: they are in Braille.


Continuing through March 2, 2013


In her current solo exhibition, Catherine Wagner presents twelve same-sized (21 3/4 by 49 1/8 inch) diptychs, each composed of one photograph of a closed Braille book with a place-marking ribbon, and a second photo of the same book open to a mid-way point. The books are beloved classics — titles include John Steinbeck’s "The Grapes of Wrath," Toni Morrison’s "Beloved," Albert Camus’s "The Stranger," and Sylvia’s Plath’s "The Bell Jar," among others. Also apparent is that these are well-read: the edges of the paper are curled and the edges of the binding are visibly worn. 


The images share many similarities to Wagner’s last exhibition at this venue, which featured a series of photographs of antique splints and prostheses. There is technical precision in both bodies of photography; the background is featureless; the focus is on only one object; the overall series is focused on a single subject matter. Further, while the subject matter differs, each group shares the similarity of aiding people who have a disability. And then, as now, the images are subtly striking and beautiful. 


But the most compelling distinction of this new body of work is its sparseness. The books are almost featureless, with no words or imagery, and the only marked difference from book to book is the color of the cover — green, red, brown — and bookmark — black or white — both of which are always solid. Brought to the forefront, then, is the sculptural quality of the object and fine detail. There is also an irony to the work: the very people to whom these books are directed cannot experience these images. For the majority who can see the images, the books lose their meaning, their value as books, as they must be touched to be read. This experiential transmutation elicits a visceral reaction and leads to the concept that underpins the show’s strength: there are many ways to see. 

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