Extended Moments of Scattered Stories

Art Review by Claudia Berlinski

Andrea Modica’s work possesses a darkness and a peace that conveys a sense of human fragility and our inevitable mortality.   There is a general sense of tragic romanticism, and this appeals to those of us who seek solace in melancholy.

Among the most sensitive in the show, and my favorite pieces, are selections titled Pine Plains, NY showing images of some of Modica’s family members in tender moments. They are cropped in a way to exclude extraneous activity and to bring focus to intimate actions – adult family members with outstretched arms, grasping hands with a toddler; one small hand lying atop a larger one in a loving gesture; small slippered feet dangling over the edge of a seat.

Five images from Italy that are grouped together following the Pine Plains, NY series are also particularly lovely images. In these scenes we have no idea what the narrative might be, but the imagery conveys such compassion that it makes one feel a yearning for that level of tenderness in our own lives. They seem to illustrate fleeting moments in time, or odd portraits – passing memories of private relationships.

Human Being, photographs of skulls from excavated mass graves, and another series that shows studies of horses from a veterinary hospital, portray the strongest sense of the fragility of human existence. The frailty of the sometimes broken skulls and the vulnerability of the horses recovering after surgery remind us of our own mortality in a powerful way.

In the Treadwell series Modica explores the lives of families living in rural areas of upstate New York. In these pieces we get a sense of the “other” – a popular topic of photographers that explores people who exist on the fringes of the mainstream – those not like us. This kind of work can read as voyeuristic and illicit by bringing attention to people we see as weird or less fortunate and putting them on display. The examples we see in this exhibition from Treadwell are the most restrained of this particular series. They seem to transcend the peculiarity that permeates the bulk of the series – as evidenced in books and catalogs of Modica’s work. It must be, again, the framing that makes us see the subjects in a very human way that is different from the other pieces.

Another series – one that we only see in the books of the artist’s work – titled Fountain appears to have a similar set of subjects to Treadwell. However, the Fountain photos capture subjects in mystical and mysterious poses that are elegant and transfixing – qualities that are lacking in Treadwell. I think it is a loss for viewers of this exhibition that none of these are present to be viewed in person.

It is difficult to know where the artist is coming from upon seeing this exhibition. The show is a scattered variety of subject matter from portraits to landscapes to formal compositions, as well as intimate slices of life from travels in Italy. Perhaps it is just that Modica has a broad range of interests. On view are samplings from eight or more different series. It is not easy to get a sense of any of the bodies of work with so few examples from each. It would have been easier to connect with her artistic sensibilities if one or two groups of work had been highlighted instead. The museum has provided books and catalogs from other exhibitions to help fill in the gaps. In a way, this is both a blessing and a curse. I feel that the best of Modica’s photography is represented more in the catalogs than in the gallery. So, I am not able to view them in person today, but I am left with a desire to seek out more.

Claudia Berlinski is an Assistant Professor of Art at Youngstown State University, a working artist and curator. She previously wrote art reviews for Dialogue magazine, which was a vital and vibrant print media source for the visual arts in the Midwest. You can contact Claudia at c_berlinski@hotmail.com.