Anne Collier’s Pictures of Pictures at the Aspen Art Museum | AspenTimes.com

Anne Collier’s Pictures of Pictures at the Aspen Art Museum

A nude female body's head has been replaced with a camera in a work on the wall at the Aspen Art Museum. But it's not a photo collage or a painting. It's actually a photograph, by Anne Collier, of an advertisement in an old French camera magazine.

The photo of a photo ­— and its suggestive, somewhat detached commentary on sexualization in mass media, gender politics and photography itself — is like a lot of the works in the midcareer retrospective of Anne Collier's photography at the Aspen Art Museum. There's no editorializing in her photos, which range in interest from self-help and pop psychology to celebrity, along with the male gaze and gazing in general.

"Look around, you'll see there's an absolute neutrality that she maintains with all of these things," said curator Michael Darling of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, where the show previously exhibited. "There's no outwardly making fun of these things or passing judgments on them. So it's really on us to come up with our own interpretations. That kind of coolness is something that you see Anne do throughout the show."

The survey of Collier's work from 2002 to the present — the first retrospective of the New York-based photographer's career — fills three ground floor museum galleries with 27 works. Organized by Darling, its three-month stay in Aspen is the show's third of four scheduled stops.

It's not often that the Aspen Art Museum brings a touring show to town — Collier's is just the third in director Heidi Zuckerman's 10-year tenure, she said — but this show is clearly something special, certainly among the high points of the first year of exhibitions in its new downtown building.

The center room in the show includes pieces from Collier's "Women With Cameras" series. Zuckerman, half-jokingly, called it Collier's "feminist room."

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Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Judy Garland make appearances here, among images of images from posters, album covers, magazine pages and postcards. A diptych of film stills features Faye Dunaway as a fashion photographer in "Eyes of Laura Mars."

Garland is crying in a posed photo, a choice that fascinated Collier.

"It's a glamour shot that she's decided to do in this way," Collier said on a recent walkthrough of the show. "There are so many amazing layers of weirdness."

The meanings of her photos are most often in those layers. Collier's hand is most present in the objects themselves — books marked with sticky notes, for instance, or the crease down the center of a Madonna poster featuring her smoking and doing her best Marilyn pose.

"It's kind of amazing that she is pretending to be Marilyn Monroe in this poster pretending to be art, and that is art," Collier said.

Of the aforementioned advertisement of the camera-headed nude, Collier laughed and said, "I guess they're meant to sell cameras to somebody. I love that, but it's also a little bit f—ed up and weird."

Spend a little time looking at these, and you easily get sucked into what Darling referred to as a "vortex of meaning." What drew Collier to the initial image? And why are you drawn to the new image she's made of it? And what does one say about the other?

It's a photo show that's sort of about how photos are consumed and what kinds of messages they try to convey about women and photography itself.

Collier mines eBay and thrift shops and sometimes curbside trash piles for the objects on which she turns her lens. Among the gems she's found on the street in New York were a series of printed papers on topics such as "Relevance," "Evidence" and "Connection," with a series of questions about each. Collier shot them against manila folder backdrops in her "Questions" series, among her works looking at self-help and pop psychology. She also shot cassette tapes on coping, and a desk calendar for planning emotional goals.

A series of photos of her own eyes emphasize that the act of looking and the inescapability of one's own perspective are at issue here.

In part, she acts as an archivist, an archaeologist and an aggregator of images. But the thing is that, somehow, Collier communicates an emotional heft and vulnerability, often a melancholic felling, in her work.

"There's a real beating heart under everything," Darling said.

The outmoded technology of a useless self-help cassette or an old desk calendar, or even darkroom developing tools, brings a bittersweet sentimentality to many of these images.

"There's something sad about the idea that something is not useful anymore," Collier said. "It's always changing. Even how you take photographs is different than it was when I started."

atravers@aspentimes.com

If You Go …

What: Anne Collier retrospective

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Through July 5

More info: Local skiers also got to know Anne Collier’s work this winter. Her photos of “Aint No Mountain High Enough” vinyl records were featured on the 2014-15 season passes; http://www.aspenartmuseum.org