Larry Sultan, Untitled #16, from the series Swimmers, 1978-1982 / Courtesy of the artist
Jul 10 – Aug 16, 2024
Yancey Richardson
New York, USA

“We originate from water; we consist to a large extent of water. Without water any life would be unthinkable. In its liquid state, water is without its own shape and form…Water is a universal element.”
–Jitka Hanzlová

Yancey Richardson is pleased to present Immersion, a group exhibition examining the varied and charged associations of figures in water, with images spanning the early twentieth century to the present. The eighteen international artists in the show include Olivo Barbieri, Lillian Bassman, Adam Fuss, Jitka Hanzlová, David Hilliard, André Kertész, Justine Kurland, Alex MacLean, Arno Minkkinen, Marilyn Minter, Richard Misrach, Zanele Muholi, Alex Prager, Mark Steinmetz, Larry Sultan, Hellen van Meene, Masao Yamamoto, and Kanoa Zimmerman. The exhibition is on view from Wednesday, July 10 through Friday, August 16, 2024 with an opening reception Wednesday, July 10 from 6–8 pm.

The works in Immersion explore water’s ability to evoke altered states of being such as birth, death, dreams, sensuality, and spirituality. The large-scale photograms of New York-based British artist Adam Fuss (b. 1961) often explore the poignancy of new life, death, and nature. His silhouette of an infant floating upwards in an amorphous liquid alludes to both the origin of life and to scenes of ascension in western religious painting.

Wonders of Water, a 1959 black-and-white image of an elegant figure diving into inky darkness by the innovative fashion photographer Lillian Bassman (1917–2012), exemplifies the impressionistic sensibility for which she became known. Los Angeles native Alex Prager’s (b. 1979) dreamlike film still of a woman swimming underwater, while fully clothed, suggests her bodily transcendence by death or love. The title of the series from which the photograph comes, La Petite Mort, is the French term for orgasm, translated as “the little death.”

[ . . . ]

In 1978-82 California native Larry Sultan (1946–2009), determined to overcome his fear of immersion, undertook a project to photograph underwater in Bay Area public pools, capturing unexpected choreographies of colorful figures distorted and reflected by the rippling water. Fifty years earlier, the Hungarian photographer André Kertész (1894–1985), influenced by Cubism and Surrealism, used the refractory qualities of water to elongate and distort the body of his brother swimming in a pool. Born and raised in Hawaii, Kanoa Zimmerman’s black-and-white photograph Diver 10 reveals a diver, isolated and suspended in a seemingly infinite expanse of gray space in which time seems stretched and life on land a distant reality. “Light behaves differently underwater. It bends and slows down, giving rise to optical phenomena,” observes Zimmerman. “Our movements and heart rate also slow, our bodies suspended as if weightless. Without the normal metronome of breathing, time seems to stretch… There is a dreamlike quality to being underwater, a feeling of being removed from yourself.”

Best known for her carefully staged portraits of adolescent girls exploring the psychological tension and ambiguity of this transitional stage of life, Dutch artist Hellen van Meene (b. 1972) created a modern-day Ophelia floating atop shallow water. Also focusing on young women, Justine Kurland’s (b. 1969) Bathers, a seminal work from her landmark series Girl Pictures (1997–2002), features a group of girls who lived on a commune and spent the summer along the banks of a river in Southwest Virginia. Based out of New York, much of Kurland’s work has been made on the road, where she says she focuses on “a space where the female experience is foregrounded and affirmed through mutual recognition of one another… where performances became actual exchanges of intimacy and protection.”

In the images of Georgia-based photographer Mark Steinmetz (b. 1961) and South Africa-based visual activist Zanele Muholi (b. 1972), water serves as a transformative medium. Steinmetz’s image of a young boy waist deep in a river as he is being baptized examines the idea of immersion in water as an act of spiritual cleansing and rebirth. In their self-portrait Manzi I, West Coast, Cape Town, 2021, Zanele Muholi emerges from the depths of water as a powerful, goddess-like figure confronting the viewer with a penetrating gaze. The image is drawn from their series Somnyama Ngonyama (“Hail the Dark Lioness”) which explores themes of racism, sexuality, and the politics of possessing a Black body.

Throughout their careers, Czech-born artist Jitka Hanzlová (b. 1958) and Yokohama-based photographer Masao Yamamoto (b. 1957) have looked to animals and plant life for their inspiration. In her extended project WATER 2013–2019, Hanzlová traveled the world to examine water in all its different states. Taken in Mauritius, her image of a reef shark swimming silently through the crystal-clear Indian Ocean showcases the artist’s wondrous approach to the natural world. Yamamoto’s small, intimate handmade photographs of overlooked moments in nature are informed by animism and Japanese aesthetic traditions.

Jul 10 – Aug 16, 2024
Yancey Richardson
New York, USA

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