Sarah Charlesworth

(1947 - 2013) American


"Art is made of ideas," says Charlesworth, who considers herself a conceptual artist rather than a photographer. She studied with the conceptual artist Douglas Huebler and was influenced by the artist Joseph Kosuth. Charlesworth appropriates images from the media, along with reproduced icons of natural and cultural history, redeploying their force as secular talismans. After exhaustive visual research, she selects images that are symbolically overdetermined. Formally simple, her compositions are minimal and dense, with a multiplicity of allusions. Charlesworth is interested in seeking out "the most primary questions of visual language," which in contemporary culture involve the unmaking and remaking of meaning in the visual realm of popular culture. For all their conceptual complexity, her prints, often more than forty inches high, function as consciously seductive objects of desire. The work juxtaposes isolated images on fields of highly saturated color that function symbolically. Charlesworth selects reproduced images from her files and attaches them to colored boards, sending the camera-ready work to a commercial lab that makes the 4x5 inch transparencies from which her prints are made. Like advertisements, the laminated prints are highly reflective.
Charlesworth studied with Lisette Model in 1970, and worked as a freelance photographer during the 1970s before developing her distinctive style. Her first iconic series, Objects of Desire, interrogated sexuality and gender as constructed in consumer culture. By 1989 her work had become more introspective, and her productions of 1991, which used images from Renaissance paintings, addressed her own emotions and relationships. In 1993 she began photographing herself doing magic tricks. This work addresses the illusionism of art and the assumed veracity of photography. Charlesworth, who teaches at the School of Visual Arts and the Rhode Island Institute of Design, has received three National Endowment for the Arts grants. SITE Santa Fe presented a retrospective of Charlesworth's work in 1997.
Lisa Soccio

Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 211.
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