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Meatyard’s “Ghosts” On View at Team Gallery in New York

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Untitled, ca. 1957 / printed ca. 1957 (all images courtesy of team (gallery, inc.), fraenkel gallery, and the estate of ralph eugene meatyard)

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Untitled, ca. 1959 / printed ca. 1959

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Untitled, ca. 1959 / printed ca. 1959

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Untitled, 1959

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Untitled, 1961

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Untitled, ca. 1968-72 / printed ca. 1968-72

A new exhibition at New York’s Team Gallery, titled “ghost outfit,” sets the eerie and enigmatic work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard in conversation with that of Dan Flavin and Robert Janitz, as organized by director Todd von Ammon. Through sculpture, painting, and photography, the show brings together disparate artists who all “made drawings with light,” as von Ammon put it.

Little recognized in his lifetime, Ralph Eugene Meatyard became widely known during the 1970s photo boom, shortly after his death at age 46. Born in Normal, Illinois in 1925– a detail critics often point out, given the self-taught photographer’s macabre imagery– Meatyard alternately experimented with early photographic techniques of abstraction and staged scenes rife with literary allusion.

Von Ammon first discovered Meatyard’s work as a child, in an Aperture Foundation monograph published in 1974 that his family owned. As the exhibition began to materialize around Flavin and Janitz, he felt the spot for a third dominant medium should belong to Meatyard, with “light on water as a formal corollary” uniting the three artists. He saw Meatyard as, “the opposite of Flavin, who was slouching toward this metaphysical purity while Meatyard was muddying his hands.”

Photographs in the front gallery represent the abstract, more ethereal version of Meatyard, with motion blurs, swirling perspectives, and scattered light, alongside Janitz’s painterly streaked canvases. In the back gallery, a darker image of the photographer emerges; the cool green neon of a Flavin glows against Meatyard’s black-and-white gelatin prints of skull masks, dolls, and a zombie hand reaching out from a grave.

“What ultimately happened is that the show grew this extra limb and became about the ghost, the mask, or obscurity in terms of light,” von Ammon adds, noting themes commonly attributed to Meatyard’s work. The photographs came directly from Madelyn Meatyard, the artist’s widow, who relayed to von Ammon that the show marks one of the few occasions Meatyard’s work has been shown in such a decontextualized setting, among the likes of artists such as Flavin.

“The show is about stripping these artists of their previous associations,” von Ammon says, “Giving it some kind of elevated strangeness. We don’t mitigate that, we want to amplify that.”

The show, which opened on October 19, runs through November 16– overlapping Halloween. To follow, von Ammon adds, “I didn’t plan on the show being so goth.”

Alexandra Pechman

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