Howard2 and IKB by Linda Lindroth

2D or Not 2D

Walk into Linda Lindroth’s Willow Street studio and you may be drawn to the walls with your hands outstretched. You may want to touch the worn velvet, the ragged cardboard, the rumpled polyethylene.

But you shouldn’t do that, not least because they’re photographs. Lindroth’s much-larger-than-life prints of old boxes and other objects flattened and folded are rendered in such exquisite detail that even up close, it’s hard to believe they aren’t actually there in three dimensions.

The finger-worn edges of a red velvet photo album are bare to the webbing. A jewelry box that once held a cushion now offers an arched smear of golden glue. A flattened box, its four sides extending from the bottom into a plus sign, is cheerfully adorned with red polka dots—small, medium, large. Look closer and the ghost of a parent’s handwritten label—“Dinosaurs”—hints at one reason why this old cardboard box was still around 70 years after production. These and many more have been shot using a camera “with very large capture” and printed on bright white rag paper using scanners and other equipment that Lindroth has modified herself.

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Lindroth wasn’t always interested in boxes, though she can see the origins of this work even in her early photographs. After earning an MFA at Rutgers University, she “cleared her head” during five years spent photographing landscapes of the Jersey Meadows, an industrial area in her home state. “I always printed the edge of the negative because I don’t crop,” she says. “I’ve never cropped.” Retaining the edges of her original frames tells the viewer, “This is what the artist saw.” Lindroth also points to an interest in minute details in those early photographs, like a scatter of leaves on the forest floor.

Both impulses carried through to the next phase of her work. For 20 years, Lindroth was part of a project for artists sponsored by Polaroid. “When I was working with these,” she says, pointing to three framed images in her studio, “I was sort of still trying to figure out how to make a still life that had the qualities of photography but had a lot of detail, that you could fool the viewer into thinking they were looking at the real thing.” Like the Jersey Meadows images, the oversized Polaroids include the original frame: the black, chemical drip left behind when each huge backing was peeled away from the image.

A new era in her work unfolded six years ago, after Lindroth brought an old box full of daguerreotypes to a class she was teaching at Quinnipiac University. She’d done it many times before, but this time something different happened. “I brought them home, I turned the box over for some reason—to get them out, I think—and that’s the bottom of the box.” She points to a print of a rectangle of forest green with two trapezoidal flaps. The surface is riddled with white scratches, the corners gray and frazzled. “I said, ‘Whoa! That’s nice. What can I do with that?’ And that was it. That was the eureka moment.”

Instead of referencing their subjects’ functions or histories, the titles of Lindroth’s prints often nod to the work of other artists: Mark Rothko and his blocks of color, Roy Lichtenstein and his comic book-style scenes, Yayoi Kusama and her polka dots. A camera lens box designed with a gradient of black and white lines from thick to thin evokes for Lindroth the work of Adolf Loos, an architect who designed an aesthetically similar house for the singer and dancer Josephine Baker, which was never built. Lindroth’s print, titled Loos, will appear in the group show Inward/Outward: Responding to the Built Environment from January 4 through February 10 at the GarveyǀSimon gallery in New York City. Two of her Polaroid works are currently part of an exhibition at the WestLicht Museum of Photography in Vienna, which will make its way to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2019.

Lindroth’s box prints aren’t just eye-catching; they also pick up on a story. She’s interested partly in the anonymous workers who designed them: “people like me, who are professional artists, but they worked in the art department of a company, and they weren’t going to become famous Norman Rockwell.” The boxes, many of them from the 1930s and ’40s, remind us of an earlier time. “That’s a rare job now,” Lindroth says, pointing out the hand-lettering and hand-drawing on some of her subjects. “The manufacturing of things made in America, designed in packaging made in America—that’s the thing that we are mourning the loss of.”

Lindroth’s recent work may be deceptively flat, but the ideas behind it are multidimensional, and much larger than the little boxes from which they come.

Linda Lindroth
85 Willow St, New Haven (map)

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images—in order: Kusama (2016), Blinky (2012), Howard 2 (2011), IKB (2012) and Roy (2013)—photographed by Linda Lindroth.

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