Monday, April 20, 2009

Edward Steichen, 1915-1923 @Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total of 46 prints: 31 vintage images in the main gallery space, 8 fashion images in the small side gallery, and 7 later prints (city/bridges and fashion) in one of the viewing rooms. All of the images in the main room are from the period 1915 to 1923. Various printing processes were used by Steichen during this period: gum over platinum, toned/regular palladium, palladium and ferroprussiate, and toned/regular gelatin silver. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Concurrent with the big show now on at the ICP chronicling Steichen's Condé Nast years (here), Howard Greenberg is showing a group of images from Steichen's transitional period (1915-1923) just prior to joining the world of fashion and publishing. In these prints, Steichen was moving away from soft focus Pictorialism and experimenting with the sharper style of Modernism, borrowing portions from both in a satisfying combination.

This exhibit includes some truly astounding prints, several shown as pairs (the same negative using alternate printing processes, producing markedly different results). Most of the prints combine a simple, spare composition (often a still life) with a lovely warm toned patina (a holdover from Pictorialism).
Nearly all of the works in this show have strong formal qualities: round pears artfully composed on a plate, ribs and seeds of a sunflower, windows and fire escapes of a brick building, arched petals of white flowers against dark backgrounds, head shot portraits, hands and arms among long grasses. Up close, the prints have a tactile, object quality. For those interested in fine gradations of print tonality, these are prints not to be missed.

Collector's POV: There were no prices on the information sheet for the main show (a pet peeve of mine, discussed here). This reality was not however particularly surprising, given the rarity of these prints and their undeniably sky high prices. That said, we have not seen a gathering of such beautiful prints of flowers in a very long time (there are seven staggering images, hung together in a group, at right); congratulations to the folks at Greenberg for scouring up such a strong group. The White Clymitis, 1921, and Lotus, 1915, were our two favorites, fitting snugly into our flower genre. As an aside, the later prints in the viewing room are priced at $3000 each.
While I think this show missed an opportunity to tie the entire Steichen narrative together more crisply and with a bit more scholarship, there are some sublime prints here, well worth savoring.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system defined here)
Edward Steichen, 1915-1923
Through May 16th

Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 East 57th Street
Suite 1406
New York, NY 10022

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