One Work: Midge Wattles’s “Venus”

One Work: Midge Wattles’s “Venus”

A miniature version of the Venus de Milo and a life-size plaster cast of a human skull are the protagonists of one of Midge Wattles’s photographs of Milton Resnick’s studio. Against a backdrop of sketches stapled to a distressed wall, Venus stands on a stool on the right while the skull rests on a table at left that is splattered with the raw umber and other earthy paint hues Resnick favored for most of his career. These objects, stalwart symbols of beauty and mortality, lend this photo the gravitas of a memento mori.

Titled Venus (2014), the work hangs alongside eleven related photographs in Wattles’s exhibition at the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation in New York, on view through October 23. Uniform in size (20 by 16 inches), the photos are elegantly composed and respectfully demure as they reveal the late, renowned painter’s intimate and hitherto private domain. Their muted palette and somber tone befit the pensive demeanor of Resnick’s work.

When the painter of abstract, densely textured allover compositions died in 2004 (at age 87), his widow, Passlof, left his studio untouched. The couple lived and made their art in a deconsecrated synagogue in Manhattan’s Lower East Side; after Passlof’s death in 2011, the foundation she’d established hired Wattles to document the building’s worn interior before its transformation into a brightly lit contemporary art space—now fully renovated except for one small painting room Resnick used, which is still preserved in a space adjacent to this exhibition.

Wattles, a young Brooklyn­­-based artist, began the commission in 2013, and each of her images conveys what might be called the essence of absence, as if the occupants of the rooms were just out of view. The exhibition catalogue includes a selection of the untitled poems Resnick wrote almost daily throughout his later years. Venus, with its elegiac, contemplative tone, corresponds especially well to one of the shorter poems:

in the painting room
you forget pain
the spirit climbs
you judge goddesses
how different a tree looks
the abstract way

Midge Wattles documented Milton Resnick’s home and studio after his death; one photograph functions as a memento mori.