The exhibition American Interior at Carriage Trade has an odd title. It’s not “interiors,” plural — as if there is one psychic space, one soul, one ethos to plumb. If there ever was one, it forked a long time ago into divergent streams you can see in this show. There is the absurd, as in Paul McCarthy’s, “Plaster Your Head and One Arm into a Wall” (1973/2005) a photo of someone’s standing body with the head and arm hidden encased behind fresh plaster. You see the idyllic: Terence Gower’s “Kitchen I & II” (2004) a photographic diptych of a pristinely antiseptic kitchen with new appliances and a dutiful housewife. There’s also the unfortunate immigrant version: Dorothea Lange’s, “Japanese relocation, California,” (1942/2017) where a Japanese woman irons in a War Relocation Authority center where evacuees of Japanese ancestry spent the duration of WWII against their will. Barbara Ess depicts the nightmare version: a photograph “No title (snake in living room)” (2017) that shows a living room with couch, easy chair, fireplace, and a big television, but with a snake slithering down the middle of the carpeted floor.
The image that most haunts me is Gordon Parks’s photograph “TV Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama” (1956). It shows a barechested young man, sullenly holding a shotgun across his lap. I’m told by the gallery owner that he was stationed by the door of the house to protect Parks, who had taken some pictures that whites in Alabama had objected to. Oddly, the gun is pointed in the direction of the children playing on a bed in the background. This is the American character I know: the one that extols the value of protecting its own, and acclaims being armed against threats real and perceived, yet brashly, unknowingly, risks the lives of others who are nearby, those who have no part in creating the violence they inherit and yet will bear its costs.
American Interior continues at Carriage Trade gallery (277 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through June 3.