Sarah Charlesworth at LACMA

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Pictures Generation is the now established term for a group of artists using photographs as the basis for their work in the early 1980s. Mostly living New York, all were from the first generation to grow up with television. Their approach wasn't determined by the history of photography or art. It was a newly critical take on the growing dominance of mediated imagery.

Sarah Charlesworth (1947-2013) was one of the key early figures and her surprising death of a brain aneurism at the age of 66 led the New Museum in New York to organize Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld. A version of that show, with some 70 pictures made between 1977 and 2012, is now on view at LACMA.

Coming of age, and going to art school, so soon after the rise of Conceptual art in the 1960s, certainly contributed to the interrogatory stance of these artists, many of whom were women: Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine and Laurie Simmons among them.

Charlesworth, who had a graduate degree in art history from Barnard College, was influenced by her teacher Douglas Huebler and romantically involved with Conceptual artist Joseph Koseph throughout the 1960s. She was intellectually and philosophically-oriented, writing at one point, "I am an artist for whom photography has been integral to the reconceptualization of Art."

Sarah Charlesworth, "The Arc of Total Eclipse, February 26, 1979 (detail), 1979, printed 2012,"
From the series Modern History; 29 Fuji Crystal Archive prints, each 22 × 16 in.
© 2017 The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth

The show includes ten bodies of work, though not arranged chronologically by curator Rebecca Morse. It is not until you are almost at the end of the installation that her 1979 black and white pictures "Modern History" reveal the beginning of her journey. She re-photographed the front page of various newspapers but blocked out parts of the text to highlight what was considered important in what locale. Since we are about to experience the only total solar eclipse in the contiguous US since 1979, a particularly relevant work is "The Arc of Total Eclipse February 26, 1979." Photographs of the darkening sun were appropriated by Charlesworth from newspapers in various cities along the geographical trajectory of the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.

Sarah Charlesworth, "Patricia Cawlings, Los Angeles," 1980, printed 2012
From the series Stills; gelatin silver print, 78 × 42 in. 
© 2017 The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth

The 1980 series Stills included press photos of people falling from tall buildings or bridges. The grainy black and white prints are six feet tall and she was among the first to present her photographs at that scale. One of her black and white pictures was the cover of Bomb magazine, which she co-founded in 1981.

Sarah Charlesworth, "Candle," 2002
From the series Neverland, dye destruction print, 41 1/2 × 31 1/2 in.
© 2017 The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth

After that, Charlesworth departed from her life with Kosuth and the documentary approach of her information age predecessors. Like Dorothy entering Oz, when she moves from black and white to color, Charlesworth discovers a range of particular strengths and sensibilities. Objects of Desire, one of her longest series, was made between 1983 and 1989. Unpredictably varied items of interest are centered on monochromatic backgrounds surrounded by identically colored lacquered frames.

Sarah Charlesworth, "Lotus Bowl," 1986
From the series Objects of Desire, dye destruction print, 42 × 32 in. 
© 2017 The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth

They depict objects while being objects. Their obviously fabricated nature draws attention to our willingness to be seduced. Instead of shoes or bourbon, we are drawn into the artist's selections: A pink lotus floating over a golden bowl on an emerald green backdrop, for instance, or a black leather bondage harness on crimson. It is worth mentioning that these pictures were produced before the digital era. The objects were painstakingly cut-out of other photographic sources, re-photographed by Charlesworth and printed with Cibachrome film.

In the 1990s, she went on to photograph actual objects in her studio. Compositions tend to be simple, compelling us to absorb and even meditate on the moment. She returned to some of her earlier interests: a golden bowl, a statue of Buddha, groups of flowers.

Sarah Charlesworth, "Half Bowl," 2012
Fom the series Available Light, dye coupler print, 41 × 32 in.
© 2017 The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth

Her last series, from 2012, was prophetically titled Available Light and recorded the effects of natural illumination falling on on transparent or reflective objects. A silver bowl filled with water is placed before vertical blue and white panels over the window so that the colors are symmetrically reflected. The sublimity of this subject matter appears prophetic given her sudden death the following year.

Even for those familiar with the artist's work will find this a revealing and moving exhibition, one that firmly establishes Charlesworth's influence and position in the changing use of photography in art in the contemporary era. The show continues through February 4, 2018.