Annie MacDonell at Katharine Mulherin (1080 Queen West), to May 23. 416-537-8827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sometimes a chance find inspires an irresistible premise for a show. Artist Annie MacDonell discovered a box that contained five rolls of black-and-white negatives dating from 1953.
The photos she developed from them show a woman stripping for her lover in a darkened living room. The evidence suggests they were taken by a married man of his mistress.
These are no fumbling attempts at cheesecake. Instead, they unfold in a careful and artfully paced progression. Cropped at the neck and the knees, the woman slowly strips in flirtatious poses that show a dancer's flair, while the presence of the photographer is palpable in every frame. The age of the photos adds its own vintage, noirish appeal.
These images have an almost radioactive allure, and MacDonell treats them with restraint. In some she has overlaid areas of the woman's body with transparent images and tape, creating topographical textures that gently underscore the visual and semantic layers. Others are left untouched, to communicate their own complex tension.
You could argue that this kind of semiotic "reading" of found erotic images amounts to another precious exercise in pomo soft-core. Yet MacDonell's subtle reworking manages to open an intensely private game to the public eye while preserving its integrity. These are images of knowing adults at play, and their subtle eroticism is refreshing.
In this golden age of amateur porn, when we're drubbed senseless by the commercialized hardcore antics of the people next door, some understatement and intrigue can be sweet.