During the late 1980s, Salle turned to new sources; collaborations with the American Ballet Theater generated crucial material and ideas. Salle created costumes and sets for a Mikhail Baryshnikov ballet
and a number of other productions choreographed by Karole Armitage (the pair were also romantically linked).
Indeed, a sense of theatricality pervades the works on view at Skarstedt. The depicted folds in Ghost (1992) resemble those of a fallen curtain. It’s divided into three bands of color, suggesting the typical three-act structure of a stage production. Open Boat, from the same year, has the feel of a dark prop closet filled with objects incoherently discarded and jumbled together, seen outside of their original contexts (an apt metaphor for much of Salle’s painting). Like Stephen Crane’s 1897 short story of the same title, which explored the unknowability of the natural world, the painting suggests that interpretation is probably futile.
Salle’s engagement with the performing arts, combined with his predominant interests in simultaneity and juxtaposition, eventually found a natural outlet in film. In 1995, he made his directorial debut with Search and Destroy, a movie about an aspiring filmmaker that featured Dennis Hopper, Rosanna Arquette, and Christopher Walken. Salle had been editing and splicing images together for years; now he was doing the same with live action reels.
The title of Salle’s painting Final Cut (1993) evokes the language of cinema. The vertical bar at the center neatly divides the canvas as though into two still frames. The painting has a sun-drenched, pop-infused look to it, the central text derived from a whiskey ad. With its light tones, depictions of cool drinks, and identifiable source material, the painting is perhaps the most inviting in the show.
There’s a spooky, chilly aura to the others. The most disturbing may be Fooling with your Hair (1985): In three distinct sections within the painting’s lower half, the viewer sees pictures of a woman in compromising positions on a thin table, unclothed from the waist down (except for a pair of shoes). The emphasis on light and shadow reminds us that these representations derive from black-and-white photography. The scenes look staged, eerie, repellent, and ultimately anti-erotic.