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Laurel Nakadate
Strangers and Relations
May 11 – July 26, 2013

We are extremely pleased to announce our third solo presentation of works by Laurel Nakadate. The exhibition features twenty large-scale color photographs made during the past two years.


During the summer of 2011, Laurel Nakadate began to photograph strangers, inviting friends of friends, Facebook “friends,” and curious members of the online community, to meet her at night in remote corners of the United States and Europe. Under darkened skies, using simple techniques including long exposures, available starlight, moonlight, and a single handheld flashlight, Nakadate created Star Portraits, a series of photographic performances that recorded the urgency of first encounters between the artist and her subjects.


That same summer, Nakadate, whose paternal lineage is Japanese-American, took a DNA test in order to uncover information about her maternal side. She wrote to distant cousins on DNA websites and soon arranged to meet them, also at night, in order to make their portraits. Just as they did in the Star Portraits, Nakadate’s subjects appeared without prior instructions, choosing their own clothing and/or props.  During the past twelve months, Nakadate made further contacts through genealogical research. She crossed America numerous times, logging nearly thirty-seven thousand miles in thirty-one states as she photographed her distant cousins and their children. In these portraits of strangers, Nakadate presents a complex family album, a portrait of America in 2013 recalling great photographic projects of the last century such as August Sander’s physiognomic portrayal of the German people and Mike Disfarmer’s photographs of the citizens of Heber Springs, Arkansas.


Since the earliest video pieces in which she recorded herself interacting with men met through chance encounters, Nakadate has used her art to explore connecting with strangers. Now, as she moves behind the lens, she remains visible in the DNA that she shares with women, men, and children of widely varying racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Her genealogical family includes the descendants of slaves and Mayflower pilgrims, the McCoy clan of the famous Hatfield/McCoy feud, the early Protestant feminist Anne Hutchinson, the Quaker martyr Mary Dyer, and many other fascinating individuals. She writes:


In my early videos, I physically appeared in the work.  In these new portraits, I am allowing my body, my DNA, to navigate my direction; where I will travel and whom I will meet. These strangers, who are also distant cousins, share bits of DNA with me – in some ways, these images become modern day self-portraits. I see these strangers, who are also relatives, as little glimmers of the ancestors who connected us hundreds of years ago.


The exhibition includes seventeen works from the Relations series and three images of “strangers” from the Star Portraits series.


Laurel Nakadate was born in Austin, Texas in 1975 and raised in Ames, Iowa. From 1999 to 2001, while completing her MFA in photography at Yale University, she began to create provocative works in video, photography, performance and film that challenge conventional perceptions of power, seduction, tenderness and trust. Nakadate’s early relationship to the fixed single viewpoint of the camera (as both artist and subject), her insistence on simple production values, and her upending of public and private ritualistic behaviors, anticipated the amateur video aesthetic of YouTube diaries and internet blogs. A major monograph, 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears, featuring a yearlong photographic “performance,” in which the artist forced herself to cry each day during the year 2010, was recently published by Hatje Cantz and the Zabludowicz Collection, London.


Laurel Nakadate has participated in solo and group exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide, including a critically acclaimed ten-year survey Laurel Nakadate: Only the Lonely at MoMA PS 1 in 2011. Her works are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Yale University Art Gallery; the Princeton University Art Museum; the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College; the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; and other distinguished institutions. The artist has also received widespread acclaim for two feature-length films, Stay the Same Never Change, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and The Wolf Knife (2010), which was nominated for Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards and was the featured work in The Believer Magazine’s 2012 annual film issue. Works by Laurel Nakadate will also appear in In the Heart of the Country, at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland (opening May 14, 2013), and Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (October 24 – February 9, 2014).


Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects is located on the sixth floor of 535 West 22nd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Gallery hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.