Taryn Simon: Contraband

 Taryn Simon,  Guinea Pigs, Ecuador (Prohibited) , 2010, Archival inkjet print

Taryn Simon, Guinea Pigs, Ecuador (Prohibited), 2010, Archival inkjet print

Taryn Simon’s photographic series, Contraband, is currently on view at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills and at The Lever House in New York. For five days in November 2009, Simon lived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, which processes more international passengers than any other airport in the United States. There, she photographed over 1000 items detained or seized from passengers or express mail entering the U.S. from abroad. The bizarre assembly includes animal corpses, pirated DVDs, pharmaceuticals, and gold dust, to name a few.

Photographed individually against a clean, neutral background, the objects are transformed into microcosms of desire – quaint, cultural vignettes that are fun and easy to look at in the context of an art show. But at a certain point, the photos start to feel like judgment calls. While Simon’s work often deals with the unfamiliar or unexplored, it usually has a coherent purpose. Here, the otherness of the objects, taken even further by our actual and emphasized distance from them (most are labeled with country of origin), just feels disparaging. Simon’s intentions seem to be good –  confronting desires, lifting the veil on international commerce, and questioning contemporary security practices – but the photos miss the mark. The out of place humor and exaggerated novelty creates an even larger disconnect than there already was.

Taryn Simon: Contraband
Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills
September 22 – November 6, 2010
The Lever House, New York, NY
September 30 – December 31, 2010
The exhibition is accompanied by a book published by Steidl and Gagosian Gallery.

 Taryn Simon,  Bongs (illegal) , 2010, Archival inkjet print

Taryn Simon, Bongs (illegal), 2010, Archival inkjet print

 Taryn Simon,  Viagra, China (labeled “USA American Visagra”; counterfeit) , 2010, Archival inkjet print

Taryn Simon, Viagra, China (labeled “USA American Visagra”; counterfeit), 2010, Archival inkjet print

 Taryn Simon,  DVDs (“Lost,” Season 4; pirated) , 2010, Archival inkjet print

Taryn Simon, DVDs (“Lost,” Season 4; pirated), 2010, Archival inkjet print

 Taryn Simon,  Cow-dung toothpaste, India (mad cow, foot-and-mouth diseases; prohibited) , 2010, Archival inkjet print

Taryn Simon, Cow-dung toothpaste, India (mad cow, foot-and-mouth diseases; prohibited), 2010, Archival inkjet print

Meredith Hudson