Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jan Dibbets, New Horizons @Gladstone

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 works, each made up of two color photographs mounted together on mat board within a thin graphite outline, framed in brown wood, and hung in the four main rooms of the gallery. The title, date (all from 2007), and artist's signature are also inscribed near the bottom of each image. Each work is unique (not editioned); sizes vary from approximately 31x42 to 56x87. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Jan Dibbets has long been interested in the nature of perception, how perspective alters our view of space, and how the optics of the camera transform what is seen. In his newest works, the straight line of the horizon provides a perfect subject for his meticulous conceptual experiments. In each work, two color photographs (one of a blue seascape with waves, the other of a green and yellow landscape, both against pure light blue skies) are carefully aligned to connect the the two adjacent horizons, creating an unbroken single line that traverses land and water.
This is the starting point for a wide variety of permutations on this theme, where proportions change, angles tilt, and rectangles and squares move above and below or side to side. In most cases, the spare horizon line runs parallel to the floor, and the geometries and triangulations occur in relation to the constant flat level point; in a few however, the horizon is jarringly slanted, sloping or ascending in an unexpected vertigo-inducing inclination, jolting the viewer out of the soothing simplicity of the construct.
The most successful works in the show are those that are the most asymmetrical, where the weights of the two parts of the image are exaggeratedly uneven, or perhaps where the limits of the strict compositional device have been tested most. The chunky blocks of uniform sky reminded me of Josef Albers' exercises with squares, and I saw photographic relationships to both John Pfahl's altered landscapes to Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascapes.
Overall, I found this show to be a satisfying and sophisticated mix of intellectual exploration and meditative repose. The works exhibit a level of craftsmanship and refinement that goes far beyond simple optical trickery and provide a fine example of the subtle power of well-executed conceptual photography.

Collector's POV: While a detailed price list wasn't available, I was told prices for the images in the show generally range between $30000 and $97000. Dibbets' work isn't widely available in the secondary markets for photography; only a few lots have come up for sale in each of the past several years. While prices have ranged between $2000 and $50000, this data may not be entirely representative of his overall output.
Given the right display environment, I think one of these constructions would hold an entire wall with ease, and would age well without looking dated. The challenge is that work like this doesn't interact particularly well with mainstream vintage or contemporary photography; the visual contrasts are just too great. As such, these works will I think be a better fit for contemporary art collectors interested in optical geometries (and with modern houses) or for photography collectors who have a special interest in conceptual or abstract photography.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Colour Chart @ Tate Liverpool, 2009 (here)
  • Review: NY Times, 1987 Guggenheim show (here)
Through March 13th
515 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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