Celebrated actor spouses Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard hosted a party last week at their Park Slope home for photographer Malerie Marder's comprehensive new volume of her entire oeuvre to date, Carnal Knowledge, just out from Violette Editions. Malerie, a friend of Peter Sarsgaard since their student days at Bard College, is one of the most gracious artists around, blushing at compliments from Philip-Lorca diCorcia, her dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who told me she is only doing guest appearances on Work of Art this season, and Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, once again wearing road-reflector orange. When asked why, Knight responded, "These days, I am addicted to orange, Charlie, I cannot wear any other color."
I am addicted to Malerie Marder's work, proud to have a piece purchased eight years ago, Emma, included in the book, and I would also be blushing at all the frontal nudity therein, if it were not for the democratic nature of Marder's vision. Peter Sarsgaard modeled for Malerie at the start of her career and, since then, she has gently stripped and visually caressed all kinds of people, making them all as sweetly naive as fauns and as sexy as movie stars in the process.
A luxurious volume, which includes essays by writers such as A.M. Homes and James Frey responding to individual snaps, Carnal Knowledge sapped Malerie's strength for four years, as she struggled to get the images right and secure the finances to publish.
At one point, Marder walked the streets of Amsterdam, interviewing and photographing prostitutes, for relief from the book project. It is a very special trick to depict naked people, spotted in out-of-the-way corners and otherwise empty rooms, often in the throes of passion, without a hint of voyeurism or salacity, but Marder's innocent generosity of spirit triumphs. She is the antidote to Helmut Newton, a kind of naked spring in the sexual streets.
Thus, Carnal Knowledge is a step back into Eden, away from Sodom and Gomorrah, where love reigns over all, and a book which will become a classic of contemporary photography.
“Malerie Marder: Carnal Knowledge” was previewed at Blain/Southern in London, Apr. 6-21, 2011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).