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TO SEPT. 6
Uncontroversial Sally Mann is not. The Lexington, Va., photographer was both lionized and hounded for her most famous series, 1992’s “Immediate Family,” in which she photographed her young children in a series of posed and candid tableaux, often naked and with sexual overtones. Yet in the degree of discomfort it thrusts on the viewer, Mann’s newest exhibition, “What Remains,” makes its predecessor seem like, well, child’s play. The large, multipart show opens with a series of antique-process photographs Mann made of her greyhound Eva—a year after Eva’s death, after Mann had dug up the dog’s remains. The bits of bone and sinew, limned in charcoal and black, possess a certain dignified peace, but the creepiness of the artist’s conceit all but smothers the visual interest. (Untitled # 7 is pictured.) This revulsion is soon set aside, with the start of a series made at a forensic research facility—images of human bodies left to weather in the elements as a tool to aid coroners and law-enforcement officers. Mann’s unblinking, transgressive, and anonymous depictions—of warped skin, exposed innards, congealing limbs, matted pubic hair, and eyeless skulls that seem to scream in agony—are guaranteed to drop jaws and turn stomachs. To be fair, Mann’s unmediated approach begins to make more sense once one sees the exhibition’s two landscape series, one documenting the site on Mann’s farm of the suicide of an escaped sex offender, and another showing the Civil War battlefield at Antietam. The images of these series are moody almost to the point of unreality, and their violence is so abstract that it’s all but invisible. Mann’s closing series, more than 60 large close-ups of her children’s faces, is designed to be “an elegiac and loving coda,” but it feels perfunctory, like a smiley-face slapped onto a death mask. Ultimately, what’s troubling about the exhibition is less its full-frontal examination of death than Mann’s seeming inability—displayed regularly in previous projects—to relate to the core humanity of her subjects. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, to Monday, Sept. 6, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $6.75 (202) 639-1700. (Louis Jacobson)