Friday, January 30, 2009

Candida Höfer, Philadelphia @Sonnabend

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 large scale color C-prints, framed in blond wood frames with no matting, arrayed in the entry and two rooms in the rear of the gallery. Images range in size from roughly 60x64 to nearly 70x100. All of the negatives are from 2007. (Installation shots with significant glare at right and below.)

Comments/Context: German photographer Candida Höfer has spent the better part of the past 30 years making huge deadpan images of public architectural spaces around the world. She has captured museums, hotels, banks, libraries, and palaces of all kinds, always devoid of people and often lit with pure daylight. Her current show at Sonnabend displays a group of new pictures taken in some of Philadelphia's most ornate Federal buildings.
Höfer is, of course, one of the group of highly successful students of the Bechers at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art, and her work shares their clinical approach to picture making. The images are all taken from a rigid square frontal position, the subject matter has variation within an overall sameness, and the prints are made with a high degree of technical mastery.

Despite all of the over the top ornamental flourishes found in these rooms, the interiors are chillingly vast and empty, like tombs that have recently been unearthed and opened to anthropologists. While there are frequently subtle effects resulting from the placement of the light, for the most part, the images are dry and emotionless, in contrast to the clear hopes for grandeur and awe of the builders.

We have often seen Höfer's work in the pages of glossy design magazines, her images hung on the walls of flashy apartments and newly redecorated lofts. It seems they often serve as stand ins for a dreamed about library or ballroom, a symbol of decorative luxury just out of reach. For us, there seems to be something absent, a missing connection that would normally draw us back to the images again and again. While Höfer has pointed her camera at a vast array of amazing places, there doesn't seem to be anything new, fresh or memorable going on, and over time, the images become surprisingly interchangeable. And in a mind bending twist, perhaps that is just the point.

Collector's POV: Candida Höfer's work is readily available in the secondary market, in a range of sizes from small to gigantic. The pictures in this show are priced between 40000 and 50000 Euros. At auction, the smaller pieces can be found well under $10000 (often in editions of up to 100), while the larger works (perhaps more representative of what she's trying to do and printed in much smaller editions, usually 6) seem to range between $20000 and $50000, give or take a few outliers on the high side.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Candida Höfer, Philadelphia
Through February 14

Sonnabend Gallery (artnet page here)
536 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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