A graduate of Yale University, Andrea Modica (b. 1960, Brooklyn, NY) established her reputation with the success of her monograph Treadwell (Chronicle Books, 1996). In the Treadwell images Modica elaborated her distinctive style, treating her subject matter – a young girl from backwater America and her barren, impoverished environment - with a heightened empathy for the bizarre which has been compared to Diane Arbus’ vision.
The recent skull series was a result of a study (conducted by the Department of Anthropology of Colorado College, Colorado Springs) on a group of over one hundred skeletons secretly buried a century ago. They were discovered in 1993 by prison inmates who were breaking ground to build the extension of an asylum for the criminally insane. After having read about the unidentified remains, Modica sought out and was subsequently granted permission to photograph them.
The reasons for a secret burial in a mass grave remain a mystery. But while unable to specify the individual identity of the remains, the study of the skeletons reveals that most of them were men and there are traces of illnesses (Syphilis) and damage which help reconstruct a form of personal history.
In depicting the crania, Modica has chosen to maintain the compositional conventions of forensic photography, systematically centering her subject and presenting it on a level with the eye. The artist’s vision however reveals in the cracks and sutures of the skulls expressive forms and patterns, and complex variations of light and shadow, which evoke the presence of a soul where science only sees an object. The lushness of the prints – the platinum/palladium process allows for a warmer and broader tonal range than silver printing – contribute to this exquisite tableaux whose aesthetic inevitably beckons to the Renaissance and to the pictorial genre of the “Vanities”.
A Guggenheim fellow, Modica has had her work exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe. Her photographs are featured in the collections of the Hallmark Cards, Inc., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris).