Friday, February 6, 2009

Contradictions in Black and White @Hasted Hunt

JTF (just the facts): A group show, displaying a total of 25 works (including one triptych and one grid of 25 pictures), representing 10 different artists, exhibited throughout the gallery. (Imperfect installation shots at right.)

The following photographers are included (with the number of works in parentheses):

Margaret Bourke-White (4)
Harry Callahan (2)
Michael Flomen (3)
Adam Fuss (1)
Nathan Harger (3)
Idris Khan (1)
Vera Lutter (2)
Raymond K. Metzker (6)
Irving Penn (1)
Horacio Salinas (2)
Comments/Context: While the dominance of color as the primary mode of expression for current contemporary photography is unchallenged, there is something to be said for reacquainting ourselves with the pleasures of black and white. Perhaps there is an unconscious desire to see something different from show after show of relentless saturated colors, or maybe it is simply a reflection of a more somber mood imposed by the current economic situation. In any case, the current show on view at Hasted Hunt gathers together a well selected mix of vintage gems and emerging artists, and creates some thoughtful juxtapositions along the way.

The challenge for contemporary artists working in black and white is straightforward: create images that don't look like they were made in the 1930s, or 1950s, or 1970s - use the medium to show us something different, not just a knock-off of an idea that was done well decades earlier. This is actually harder than it sounds, as the tonal qualities of black and white lend themselves to contrasts of line, form, and pattern, subjects that have been explored deeply by a wide variety of artists. All of the pictures in this show (regardless of time period) lean toward abstraction, even if their subject matter is recognizable; there are no portraits or landscapes or documentary images.

In one sense, you can see this show as a battle: on one side stand Bourke-White, Callahan, Metzker, and Penn, titans of the medium, represented by solid works that seem to throw down the gauntlet to the younger generation and offer them the challenge to match their greatness. On the other side stand a new generation of artists happily employing black and white in new ways: Fuss, Lutter, Flomen and Khan, with the newcomers Harger and Salinas joining the fight.

While I would have never predicted that the contemporary work would stand up to the test of the masters, the battle is closer to a draw than you might expect. There are great works by all four of the older generation in this show, particularly Metzker; both his composite and double frame images are superlative. Both Fuss and Lutter show new directions with their photograms (although the Lutters are not her best), and Flomen and Khan offer ethereal, indeterminate abstractions that are wholly different from the historical work, without treading into the realm of camera club cheesy. Harger and Salinas show that old ideas (wires, cranes, still life) can indeed be reworked in fresh ways. While the show is a bit uneven across the board, it is a successful reminder that black and white is still relevant.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show run the gamut in terms of price, ranging from $2000 to $75000. For our collection, one of the Metzkers would be our first pick, closely followed by one of the Bourke-Whites. We actually own a print of one of the Callahans (here).

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

Through February 28

529 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011

More on this show at Fugitive Vision here.

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