Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Looking Forward, Looking Back @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 26 works, variously framed and matted, and hung against grey walls in the divided gallery space. The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of photographs on view and relevant details in parentheses:

Robert Frank (3 images from The Americans, 1955-56)
Paul Graham (1 group of 7 from a shimmer of possibility, 2005)
Irving Penn (4 close-ups of Miles Davis' hands, 1986)
Charles Sheeler (4 interiors/barns, 1914-1918)
Alfred Stieglitz (4 nudes of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918-1919, plus Spiritual America, 1923)
Paul Strand (4 head shot portraits of Rebecca, 1920-1923)
Edward Weston (5 nudes, still lifes, and portraits, 1921-1927)

Most of the works on view are vintage, executed in a variety of processes (gelatin silver, platinum, palladium, chromogenic). There is no photography allowed in the gallery, so the installation shots at right are via the Pace/MacGill website.

Comments/Context: As part of the broader celebration of Pace's 50 year anniversary, Pace/MacGill has gathered together a museum quality group show, with some of the most iconic photographic images from the 20th century on display. While each small room is packed full with photo treasures, what prevents this exhibit from being one of the best of the year is that it simply has no discernible unifying theme; it's a tightly concentrated selection of superlative works (in groups) that have little relationship to each other, beyond the fact that they may have passed through the gallery at one point or another.

That's not to say that the work on display isn't among the best ever produced. A wall of elegant Strand portraits of Rebecca abuts a group of Modernist Sheeler barns, followed by a group of Stieglitz portraits/nudes of O'Keeffe, flanked by Stieglitz' famous image of a gelded horse. The outer wall has three terrific large sized Franks, and the other room holds Weston nudes, a nautilus shell, Mexican pots and a portrait of Tina, juxtaposed with a group of startling Penn images of the hand of Miles Davis. The one nod to the present (or future) is a series by Paul Graham of a gas station at twilight. Mixed with these other older standouts, it seems a strange anachronistic inclusion, not because it isn't of superior quality, but because it's a lonely, lesser known color outlier, the token contemporary piece in an otherwise vintage collection.

So while at one level every piece in this show is an awe-inspiring masterpiece, at another, this is a show entirely devoid of ideas; plain and simple, it's a group of amazing photographs. My recommendation is therefore to go and stand in the reflected glow of greatness, to drink in the scarcity of these famous images, but don't expect to come away with any particular insights or conclusions.
Collector's POV: Nearly all of the works in this show are from private or institutional collections. Those few that are for sale are marked "price upon request", and since I was not a legitimate buyer for any of these iconic works, I decided against pestering the gallery staff about the specific prices. That said, given the rarity of many of these images, I imagine the prices (except for the Graham) would easily reach well into six figures.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Various 50 Years at Pace exhibitions (here)
Through October 23rd

32 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

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