Artforum / November 2008

Anne Daems
NICOLE KLAGSBRUN GALLERY

Focusing on ephemeral minutiae, Anne Daems clearly fancies herself a poet of the everyday. Working in a variety of media, she aims to tease out neglected moments of beauty from her surroundings, whether urban, quasi-rural, or studio-interior. The aim is a laudable one, with endless precedents, but the Belgian artist relies on a level of trust in her particular vision that feels, as yet, unearned. Rather than encouraging viewers to take a fresh look at the world, she might instead leave them with a slight sense of having been condescended to.

In “Parsley and Pearls,” her recent US solo debut, Daems interspersed photographs, prints, drawings, and a video in an installation that felt, in spite of the number of works included, stretched a little thin. “72 Girls and Some Boys Who Could Be Models,” 2007, is a series of color photographs depicting the beautiful youth of Manhattan.  These delicate creatures are captured in candid nonposes as they cross the street, chat with friends, or, in one case, stride toward the camera.  The off-the-cuff compositions recall similarly surveillance-like shots by Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Beat Streuli, but Daems’s images of mostly conventionally good-looking subjects pall faster, lacking the theatricality of diCorcia’s shots (which arouse speculation about their subjects’ inner lives) and the cumulative weight of Streuli’s. The artist may feel that these twenty-somethings radiate a touching vulnerability in their oh-so-slight distance from perfection, but many viewers might not be particularly sympathetic.

“Scribbles for Drawings Make New Drawings,” 2008, is a series of pigment prints based on enlarged images of Daems’s colored-pencil doodles. Here again the intention seems to be to render the ordinary extraordinary through close focus, but the fatal fl aw of “72 Girls” recurs. The simple patterns are so ordinary-looking that they resist even this loving treatment, and the enterprise becomes redolent of artistic self-fetishization. This is not to say that the prints are entirely unattractive—the saturated colors and fi brous texture of the paper on which the original “color tests” were done reproduce nicely at this scale—but their happy-scrappy look is insuffi cient on its own. 

Daems takes a different tack in four smaller, framed graphite drawings, each captioned with a typewritten strip. Here, the artist has a stab at more overt visual-verbal wit, and the results do have a certain offbeat charm, childlike grammar notwithstanding. The woman had always some parsley in her bosom, 2006, for example, depicts a sprig of said garnish sprouting from the subject’s décolletage, while in A woman with high heels came back from the park, 2008, the protagonist’s stilettos have picked up two stacks of leaf litter. The admixture of mild surrealism to these small works, while perhaps a little cutesy, rescues them from outright banality.

In the video My father’s garden, 2008, Daems throws still another format into the ring. Here, over the course of thirty-five minutes, we observe various individuals, members of the artist’s family included, tending and making gentle use of a quietly inviting green patch. A boy hacks at a stack of branches, a woman picks over a lawn, rain gathers in an old wheelbarrow, and an old man practices tai chi, his slippered feet moving slowly and deliberately across a gravel track. The sound is lulling; outdoor ambience interrupted by the odd bit of digging. The overall effect is not unpleasant. While elsewhere in “Parsley and Pearls,” Daems fails to justify her veneration of the unspectacular, here the veneration doesn’t seem precious.

Image: Anne Daems, Untitled, 2007