Pedro Almodóvar Turns His Director’s Eye to Still-Life Photography

New York

at Marlborough

Pedro Almodóvar: Multiple Background 2, 2019, digital print, 29 1/2 by 19 1/2 inches; at Marlborough.


In “Waiting for the Light,” his first solo gallery exhibition in the United States, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar presented twenty-four sharp-focus photographs (all 2018 or 2019) of gleaming glass or ceramic vessels set against a gray wall or brightly hued monochrome panels. These still lifes share the colorful, Pop-art look of the director’s acclaimed films, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Talk to Her (2002), and Volver (2006), but also, with their dense surface detail, resemble photorealist paintings by artists such as Charles Bell and Roberto Bernardi, as well as the Precisionist still lifes of Claudio Bravo.

Almodóvar refers directly to the history of painting in several works, including Homage to Zurbarán, To Morandi, and Menina. This last photo features—on a chartreuse-colored tabletop and against a turquoise background—a single, bottom-heavy vase that echoes the hooped skirts worn by the princess and her attendants in Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas (1656) and that holds a chrysanthemum whose wilted yellow blossom evokes the princess’s blonde hair. The objects in all the photographs, in fact, suggest characters of sorts. The clunky red cup that barely contains a bunch of decaying flowers in Untitled I reads as an unruly misfit, particularly when compared with the rather aristocratic-seeming red bulbous vessel sporting a fresh, proud flower in Red Vase with Pink Chrysanthemum. The weighty cut-crystal vase and the curvaceous blown-glass piece that stand against a backdrop of vertical stripes in Multiple Background 2 suggest an odd couple in a theatrical production, while the six variously shaped glass vases in A Chorus Line evoke an especially ragtag version of the titular type of dance ensemble.

Almodóvar shot the photographs in his home using only natural light and, as the show’s title suggests, waited until the moment when it was exactly right. This process no doubt required a great deal of time and patience, and speaks to skills he has honed over his decades as a filmmaker. Further underscoring the still lifes’ relationship to his filmmaking, Almodóvar exhibited several photos he took on set for his latest movie, Pain and Glory, which opens in the United States on October 2 and concerns an aging film director, played by Antonio Banderas, who briefly reunites with a lover of his youth. It is an intimate, semiautobiographical story filled with visual wit. Almodóvar offered something similar in “Waiting for the Light,” using objects from his home to create compelling dramas of light, color, and form that hint at various aspects of life, from absurdity to melancholy to inspiration.