Hellen van Meene’s quiet pictures of women and girls posed in mostly empty rooms or among exotic plants suggest undercurrents of fairytale and allegory, drawing from myth, art history, and horror movies to make seductively simple pictures that are by turns unsettling and playful. Her work is on view in “Five,” her fittingly-named fifth show at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York until January 23. The images call to mind classical painting, especially that of fellow Dutchman Vermeer, whose delicate window light van Meene often evokes, along with references to Ingres and Velasquez. Hans Christian Andersen is a source for an image of a woman asleep atop a pile of mattresses. Other references are more modern – in another, a girl levitates above a couch, her dress falling elegantly beneath her in a nod to The Exorcist.
While the subjects of van Meene’s photos seem to reveal something about themselves, her aim is not represent each individual. “People keep asking me if portraiture is what I really do,” van Meene has said in an interview. There are people in her photos, “but they’re not really ‘portraits’,” she says. “It’s not that I am aiming to make a precise document of the person in front of me. It’s rather more like a translation of someone I see in front of me, and whom I translate into something different.”
What Galleries Want: Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City (For PDN subscribers; Log in required)