John Wood Retrospective at SUArts

"There's only one image of the flag," began Saluti. "Do you stay away from the flag?"

"I very definitely stay away from the flag!" said Wood. "Nathan has been dealing with the flag and so has Robert Frank."

Wood quickly went on to add in some detail that the flag was part of a nine-image series that includes the eagle pelts -- notably the tagged talons of a dead eagle and the close-up of an eagle's head that provides the catalogue's cover -- as well as a landscape he described as "water over the dam" (one of the most lyrical renderings in the show) and a final image of a baby in car-seat (his granddaughter). The series had not been hung together in the show as a group, but this seemed to bother Wood -- whose work has embodied curiosity and juxtaposition across subject matter, media and genre -- not at all. He said he liked the "flow" of it -- precisely the quality that Saluti said earlier in the week he'd aimed for.

In the 1960s John Wood's work was often rejected from entry into exhibitions because of the strict delineation between art genres that held sway at that time. Yet Wood -- known as much for his offset lithography, collage, drawing, wax painting, artist's books, use of text and pictographs within images, "whirligig" constructions and mixed media as for his photographs -- helped spark what eventually became a crisis for "pure photography" and prefigured many of the multimedia approaches and digital imagery processes now common for the past two decades.

Not that Wood disparaged any single medium; in a 2005 interview with Nathan Lyons, he speaks about learning to make a "beautiful" negative as crucial, then that he "still loves a straight print" and has "never solved" the inherent tension that creates with manipulation. Rather, both Saluti and "The New York Times" compare Wood to Jasper Johns in his capacity to stretch media to its limits. He also appears to have matched media with specific subject matter in ways that are contemporary and fresh. Very little about this show feels dated and you're likely to emerge with an unusually long list of "favorites."

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