Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book: Joachim Brohm, Ohio

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2009 by Steidl (here). 120 pages, with 55 color images. Includes essays in English and German by Thomas Weski and Vince Leo. The images from this project were taken between 1983 and 1984. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: In the early 1980s, German photographer Joachim Brohm took a Fulbright year at Ohio State University in Columbus. This tightly edited monograph gathers together the work he made during his stay and introduces another voice into the discussion of the early development of color photography.

Brohm's images of Ohio seem to have a mix of influences and connections (the celebration of vernacular American culture as captured by Walker Evans, the ugly underbelly of development as exposed by the New Topographics photographers, and the exploration of new color ideas by William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld), all tied together and synthesized with a slightly more aloof German aesthetic. Most of these images have a dingy, muted palette, and have been composed at eye-level, with an almost snapshot-like directness. Brohm pointed his camera primarily at back alleys and forgotten urban landscapes: parking lots, chain link fences, dated cars, dumpsters, dog runs, and clusters of overhead telephone wires, pausing to take in the array of junk left on a dashboard, a rubble strewn vacant lot, an unused basketball hoop, a window reflection, a defunct drive-in, or a car engulfed in flames. The pictures are consistently understated and unassuming, but the guard dogs, Keep Out signs, cinder blocks and broken fencing leave a lingering sense of emptiness and subtle threat.

What I found interesting here is that if Brohm had made these pictures in black and white, they would have had a stronger sense of abstracted, formal elegance. But the introduction of the often drab, cheerless color has the effect of heightening the reality of the depressed mood of the environment; it's not color for the sake of color, or color as an exercise in showing-off, but color masterfully used in a supporting role to achieve the desired temperament. Then look again, and suddenly, the red of a Cadillac tail light, the yellow of a dog house, the brown of a painted railing, or the pale green of a garage seem like perfectly calibrated eye-catching details.

For those of you busy praying to the pantheon of American gods of color, I'd thoroughly recommend taking a closer look at this body of Brohm's early work, as it attacks many of the same aesthetic questions, but upon patient inspection, offers surprisingly different and satisfying answers.

Collector’s POV: Joachim Brohm is represented by Gallery Luisotti in Santa Monica, CA (here, on artnet) and Galerie Michael Wiesehöfer in Cologne (here). Brohm's work has become somewhat more available in the secondary markets of late, particularly at the German auction houses. According to the notes in the back of the book, prints from Ohio are available in two sizes (24x30cm and 50x60cm) on Kodak Ektacolor paper (vintage) and Fuji Crystal Archive paper (modern).

Transit Hub:

  • Book review: Conscientious (here)
  • Ohio at Museum for Contemporary Art Leipzig, 2008 (here)
  • Fotografie at Kunsthalle Mainz, 2009 (here)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography @Met

JTF (just the facts): A total of 31 works, in mixed frames and mats, hung in a single divided gallery on the 2nd floor of the museum. This group show includes images/videos from 24 artists and photographers, made between 1966 to 2009. All of the works on display have been drawn from the permanent collection of the museum; most were acquired in the last decade. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists/photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of works on view in parentheses:

Vito Acconici (12 black and white images framed as 1 work)
Doug Aitken (1)
Darren Almond (1 video)
Lothar Baumgarten (1)
Matthew Buckingham (1)
Rineke Dijkstra (6)
Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1)
On Kawara (47 postcards framed as 1 work)
Svetlana Kopystiansky (3)
Richard Long (1)
NASA (1)
Bruce Nauman (1 video)
Dennis Oppenheim (1 diptych)
Allen Ruppersberg (9 paired prints/texts framed as 1 work)
Ed Ruscha (1 book)
Fazal Sheikh (1)
Erin Shirreff (1 video)
Robert Smithson (4 images framed as 1 work)
Thomas Struth (1)
Anne Turyn (1)
Unknown (1)
Jeff Wall (1)
Weng Fen (1)

Comments/Context: Apart from the times when the gallery has been subsumed into a larger exhibit (like the Pictures Generation), the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography on the second floor of the Met has become a consistent venue for thematic group shows, organized to highlight topics and subject matter of relevance to the practice of contemporary photography, almost always drawing exclusively from the museum's permanent collection. It's a low cost way to feature some terrific works which would otherwise be locked away in storage, to have a voice in the contemporary debate, and to providing some larger art historical context for some of the important ideas that are percolating around the community.
The newest iteration in this series takes on a broad intellectual construct that could loosely be called "travel", but really contains many more abstract, amorphous and obtuse ideas: the elusiveness of place, the globalization of experience, the sense of being a refugee, the passing of time, and the dislocations and displacements that have become commonplace in our modern world. The first half of the exhibit goes back to the 1960s and 1970s and explores these ideas primarily through the lens of Conceptualism. Vito Acconci makes flash photos of audiences in theaters, On Kawara sends time stamped postcards, Ed Ruscha documents the Sunset Strip, and Bruce Nauman jitters across his studio.
Fast forward a few decades, and dry, academic wit has been exchanged for a more pervasive, everyday globalism, less theoretical and more grounded in the nuances of what we now call normal. Doug Aitken peers out an airplane window, Thomas Struth captures a museum crowd studying a projection of a Delacroix, Weng Fen watches a bustling Chinese skyline, and Rineke Dijkstra follows the growth of a Bosnian refugee. My favorite piece in the show was Erin Shirreff's Roden Crater, a video that appears to capture the changing light conditions at James Turrell's famous monument. In fact, it is a series of still photographs of the crater, where Shirreff uses different glares and lighting effects on the surface of the appropriated image to create a startling spectrum of hues and colors; what looks like the smooth gradients of light waxing and waning across the hours of the day are in fact computer effects smoothing out the transitions between stills. Once you catch on to the trick (look for glare and surface grain), the inversion makes for a thoughtful comment of the experience of time.
The progression from the earlier work to the images from the past decade is quite jerky, a bit too "before" and "after", rather than a building up and evolution of ideas. While everything does in the end connect into the larger thematic undercurrents of the show, this is the most cerebral curatorial effort we've seen in this gallery space; it takes some active thinking and wall-text parsing to bring it all together - I doubt that the wandering, fly-by viewer will succeed in teasing out all of the references.
While I certainly enjoyed seeing many of the works on display in this show, I remain unconvinced that these thematic exhibits are either memorable in a larger, long-term sense or successful in being a driving force in the contemporary dialogue. Part of this comes from holding the Met to a higher standard than most other venues, and part of it is a maddening sense of lost opportunity, of fantasizing about what could have been shown in this space in these long blocks of time that might have really been spectacular. All in, this is a thoughtfully constructed and generally well-executed effort, it's just that I continue to hope for more.

Collector's POV: There really weren't too many great fits for our specific collection on view in this show. That said, I particularly liked Felix Gonzalez-Torres' intimate image of a chain link fence and strips of barbed wire across a grey sky from 1985.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), NY Photo Review (here)
  • Erin Shirreff artist site (here)
Through February 21st
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book: Doubleness: Photography of Chang Chien-Chi

JTF (just the facts): Published by Editions Didier Millet (here) in conjunction with a 2008 mid-career survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Singapore (linked below). 80 pages, with a total of 59 black and white images. Includes a foreword by Lee Chor Lin and essays by Vicki Goldberg and Xiang Biao. The work in the catalogue is divided into three projects: 21 images from Double Happiness, 24 images from China Town and 14 images from The Chain. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: I think it would be overly easy to label the work of Magnum photographer Chang Chien-Chi as social documentary or photojournalism, to wrap his efforts up under the umbrella of "concerned photographer" and to therefore fail to see the powerful art that lies within his deft explorations of social bonds. Luckily, this slim volume seeks to deliver a deeper investigation of Chang's photography by gathering together images from three separate but surprisingly related projects/essays and providing a useful sampler for those who may be altogether unfamiliar with his work.
Double Happiness chronicles the complicated brokering of marriage matches between Taiwanese men and Vietnamese women. Using consistent framing and composition, Chang tracks each step of the transaction, from the superficial lineup where the women are chosen, to the bored counseling sessions, the anxieties of the visa application window, and the awkwardness of the final staged kisses. It's thoroughly painful to watch, knowing how unlikely that it is that these couples will ever find any kind of connection (remember, they don't even speak the same language); in fact, they already seem to know that they are trapped, resigned and numbed to their unhappy fates.
China Town comes at the idea of the marriage bond from a different angle. In these pictures, Chang follows men from Fuzou who leave their families and come to New York to earn money, living in ramshackle overcrowded dormitories and working anonymous menial jobs in Chinatown. He juxtaposes black and white images from their claustrophobic, chaotic rooms (where they lounge in the sweaty underwear dreaming of the future), with color images of their wives and children back home, who are waiting to be sent for. These families are divided by the circumstances of their lives, making separate sacrifices in an effort to improve their lot in life; some have not seen each other for years or even decades. These pictures have a sad poignancy to them, a crushing sense of the hard reality that is testing the hopes of these people.
The final group of pictures, from a series called The Chain, is perhaps the most shocking and sobering. In these images, Chang has made straightforward portraits of pairs of mental patients at the Long Fa Tang Temple, where a stable patient is chained together with one with more severe problems in an unorthodox kind of bonding therapy. While the patients wear simple uniforms and stand quietly, the tiny nuances of their gestures and facial expressions tell volumes about their mental states and their relationships. More importantly, they ask hard questions about the nature of what it means to be sane, and about how we treat those with mental illness in human society. They are agonizing, unsettling, powerful, and unforgettable.
Overall, this is a consistently impressive body of work, both in its aesthetics and its underlying ideas, and one well worth exploring via this tightly edited exhibition catalogue. Chang Chien-Chi is clearly a photographer we should all be following more closely.

Collector’s POV: Chang Chien-Chi appears to have neither permanent gallery representation in the US nor any meaningful secondary market history (please add information in the comments as appropriate). My guess is the only option for interested collectors is to follow up directly via Magnum to inquire about potential prints for sale. That said, I think that either a mini-retrospective/survey show or a focused exhibit of portraits from The Chain should to be undertaken by some gallery in New York, as this work clearly merits being shown more broadly in the world of contemporary photography. (The Chain #14, 1998, at right, via artnet.)

Transit Hub:
  • Magnum site (here)
  • Exhibit: National Museum of Singapore, 2008 (here)
  • Reviews: Asian Art (here), C-Arts (here)
  • Book review of The Chain: lensculture (here)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bruce Gilden, Coney Island @Amador

JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 black and white images, framed in black and matted, and hung against cream and grey walls in the main gallery spaces. All of the works on display are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between 1976 and 1986, with dimensions 16x20 or reverse. A monograph of this body of work was published by Magnum Editions/Trebruk in 2002. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The density and diversity of humanity that descends on the beaches and boardwalks of Coney Island in the summertime heat has long been a favorite subject of photographers. There is something about the combination of swimsuits and bare skin, the closeness of the mixed crowds, and the sideshow carnival atmosphere that makes for great visual discoveries and juxtapositions.

Bruce Gilden's images of this now familiar landscape have an edge of black humor, an enjoyment of the everyday oddities and weirdness found amongst the throngs of people. There are plenty of misshapen bodies, bulging and drooping out of swimsuits or slathered up in shiny oil. A dizzying array of hats, sunglasses, and sun-protecting nose covers make ordinary folks look surprisingly strange. Add in a healthy dose of eccentricity, from the older woman lounging in her lingerie, to the nuns walking in front of the Wild Swamp Man mural, from the woman covered in a huge pillow-like blob of cloth, to the leathery skin of a woman carrying a folding chair and suddenly the whole beach seems like an eye-catching parade of freaks and deviants.

If the punishing heat of the city has you daydreaming about summer-themed photography, then this show can provide a much needed glimpse of the beach, in classic New York style: a wild, swirling, comedic mass of the bizarre, the distorted, and the unexpectedly real.
Collector's POV: The vintage prints in this exhibit are all priced at $6500. Modern prints of these same images (with the same dimensions), in editions of 15, are available for $3000 each. Gilden's work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Magnum site (here)
  • Reviews: New Yorker (here), WSJ (here, scroll down)
Through August 20th
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein's New York Photographs, 1950–1980 @Met

JTF (just the facts): A total of 44 black and white photographs, each framed in black wood and matted, and hung in the entry and three small connected rooms on the museum's second floor. All of the works on display are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between roughly 1950 and 1980. A glass case contains four books: 3 US Camera annuals and the catalog from The Family of Man. All of the works have been drawn from the museum's permanent collection. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Leon Levinstein is one of those talented photographers who somehow fell through the cracks a bit and never quite got the art world recognition that he deserved. Unknown to most and categorized by some as a second tier, mid century New York street photographer, Levinstein has always seemed to be an afterthought behind Arbus, Frank, Winogrand, Klein, Levitt and others. This terrific show makes a solid attempt to remedy the situation, bringing together a broad sample of his best work from several decades.
I think Levinstein's gift lay in his ability to capture the essence of New York's rough, funky cool (particularly in the 1960s and 1970s), without getting overly sentimental or kitchy. Nearly all of his images were taken at close range, often cropping out unneeded heads and body parts, focusing on overlooked subjects and elemental gestures found on the city's streets and sidewalks. His compositions are often angled and dark, and he was particularly adept at capturing the nuances of clothing and fashion as worn by New York's imperfect and eclectic masses, finding the hidden joy in a bold pattern, a wide collar or a tight fitting pair of shorts. The pictures are tough, edgy, sometimes harsh, and always refreshingly real.

As you look more closely at these candid pictures, Levinstein's talent for making the common look uncommon shines through. He finds earthy wonder in a foot perched on a wire trash can, a sweat stained tank top, 70s-era moustaches, a grey pinstripe suit, bulging stomachs and belts, a man fluffing his afro in a window, eating corn on the cob on the beach, tattoos, an overcoat with shiny buttons, kissing on a stoop, and a groovy floral blouse paired with tight leggings. He seems to have been fond of backs and sides, abstracting his subjects into fragments of movement or pose, paring them down into types and moments that were representative of something larger in society.
While I wish there had been a bit more scholarship or even a small monograph to accompany this show, I think this well-edited, energy-filled exhibit will help to expose Levinstein's under appreciated gritty virtuosity to a much wider audience.
Collector's POV: Leon Levinstein is represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York (here). Levinstein's prints have been available from time to time in the secondary markets in recent years, fetching between $1000 and $9000 when they have come up at auction. Nearly all of the images in this show were donated to the museum by collector Gary Davis.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), New Yorker (here), Wall Street Journal (here), Village Voice (here), Economist (here), The Year in Pictures (here)
Through October 17th

1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book: Laurie Simmons, Color Coordinated Interiors 1983

JTF (just the facts): Published in conjunction with a 2007 exhibition by Skarstedt Gallery (here) and Sperone Westwater (here). 56 pages, with a total of 21 color images. Includes an artist interview conducted by James Welling. All of the works in this volume are chromogenic c-prints, roughly sized between 25x25 to 60x45 or reverse, and were made between 1982 and 1983. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: I recently came across this thin catalog from a Laurie Simmons gallery exhibition that I missed a few years ago. The book documents one of her earlier, lesser known projects, where plastic dolls (from Japan, known as the "Teenettes") have been placed in front of various interiors scenes, which have been projected from behind. In each staged setting, the color of the dolls matches the colors of the room with a level of perfection that is altogether unnerving.

While the premise here is pretty straightforward, I found the resulting images to be both witty and powerful, with a Stepford Wives kind of satirical creepiness. Each room has an exacting perfection, an obsessive desire for things to be "just right", with strong ties to hard questions about traditional women's roles and ideals. Many of the rooms have a sterile, dated quality, a feeling that time has passed these people by, even though they are trying so hard to be current and beautiful. The gestures of the dolls made me want to invent some kind of back story or narrative for each picture, where the dining room or the kitchen is the setting for some small but unknown human drama. (Yellow Dining Room, 1983, at right, via the artist's website.)

In general, while Simmons' more recent images of houses, cakes, cameras and guns walking on doll legs might be more familiar to many collectors, I think these earlier works deserve attention as well, especially for their sly reflections on an impossibly controlled life that is both a paradise and a prison.

Collector’s POV: Laurie Simmons is represented by Skarstedt Gallery (here) and Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art (here) in New York. Her photographs have become more readily available in the secondary markets in recent years. Prices have ranged between $1000 and $96000, with a sweet spot between $8000 and $15000, consistently rising over time. (Blue Den, 1983, at right, via the artist's website.)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Review: NY Times, 2007 (here, scroll down)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Perspectives 2010 @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of 5 photographers/artists, hung in discrete sections throughout the main floor of the museum. Since photography is not allowed in the ICP galleries, there are unfortunately no installation shots for this show. The exhibit was organized by Brian Wallis, Chief Curator at the ICP. Details on the works by each photographer/artist are below:
  • Carol Bove: 1 installation, including shelving, books, shells, money, sketchbooks, a peacock feather, paintings, and other found objects, from 2010
  • Lena Herzog: 35 black and white photographs: 18 are framed in white and matted, 3 are printed larger and mounted without frames (including 1 triptych), and 14 are displayed in a pair of glass cases unframed (all of Herzog's works are displayed in a separate room with black walls and spotlights)
  • Matthew Porter: 6 archival pigment prints face mounted to plexi, variously framed, part of a series entitled High Lonesome, from 2008-2009
  • Ed Templeton: a group of 139 black and white and color images, hung as a single dense edge-to-edge installation across two walls, framed in blond wood with grey mats, entitled 30 Seconds in my Shoes, from 2007
  • Hong-An Truong: 1 video, black and white, four channel, approximately 20 minutes, entitled Adaptation Fever, from 2006-2007
Comments/Context: I'm not sure whether the impetus for this new Perspectives series at the ICP was some kind of response to the well known New Photogrpaphy series at the MoMA, or simply a vehicle for showing contemporary work in the years when the Triennial isn't on view, but whatever the reasoning, I think it is important that the museums we rely on for expertise and knowledge in photography are forced to make an argument for what they find to be significant in the contemporary medium on an annual basis. So while I'm about to tell you that I didn't entirely resonate with this show, I applaud the fact that the ICP is at least drawing a line in the sand and standing up for its own point of view.

This show brings together work by five very different artists/photographers, with a tenuous thread of "history and memory" tying them together. Former skateboarder Ed Templeton's work is by far the standout in this exhibit. His raw insider images of skateboard culture are like a personal diary, an autobiographical portrait of the world around him, filled with thrill-seeking teenagers and messy lives. Kids are covered in blood, jump from trains and bridges, sell American flags, smoke, let the gas burners on a stove run too high, and wander around naked. While there are echoes of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, and Wolfgang Tillmans here, Templeton has documented an original subculture, with alternating moments of shock and tenderness, always with a rough authentic intensity that is surprisingly gripping. I only wish some of the most powerful images weren't so crowded by the all-over installation; I'd like to see a tighter edit with slightly larger prints to really engage with some of the best pictures.

Lena Herzog's ghostly images of the bizarre specimens in Wunderkammern have an elusive, ethereal quality mixed together with a Ripley's Believe It Or Not subject matter. Most of the images are of fetuses and infants with odd genetic defects and mutations, captured and displayed as otherworldly scientific examples. Faces are deformed and disfigured, twisted in alien expressions and bathed in white mist. The effect is both unsettling and sensitive, the portraits going beyond simple creepiness into something altogether more delicate and subdued. As an accompaniment, don't miss the images in the two glass cases which document a frightening mouse skeleton orchestra, each white boned rodent playing a small instrument or singing in the chorus, their wispy tails swirling in the background.

Matthew Porter's images seem clearly descended from a Pictures Generation aesthetic approach, combining image appropriation with conceptual juxtaposition, in this case mixing cowboys and the American West with the Hindenburg and German engineering. While the thematic overlays and connections were there, these pictures just didn't grab my attention enough to encourage deeper looking. The works by the other two artists on display (Carol Bove and Hong-An Truong) weren't really photographs at all (one works in sculpture/installation and the other in video), and so I'm not sure their inclusion tells us much about the state of photography, except that many photographers are obviously broadening their definitions of the traditional boundaries of the medium and/or exploring multiple mediums and mixing them together based on their particular aesthetic needs. As such, the selection of these last two left me a bit puzzled about what the ICP was really trying to get across, except perhaps that it doesn't plan to be limited by how it defines "photography".

Overall, this exhibit is very much a mixed bag, with not enough photographic excellence to really tell a complete story or make a convincing argument. To my eye, of this group, Ed Templeton is the one to watch carefully on a going forward basis, as his photography shows the potential to evolve into a consistently genuine and original voice.

Collector's POV: None of the artists in this group show have much secondary market history in the major photography auctions. As such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. The galleries who represent the various artists (that I could find) have been listed below:
  • Carol Bove: Maccarone in New York (here), Kimmerich in New York (here)
  • Lena Herzog: (unknown)
  • Matthew Porter: M+B in Los Angeles (here)
  • Ed Templeton: Roberts & Tilton in Culver City (here)
  • Hong-An Truong: (unknown)
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Carol Bove: no artist site
  • Lena Herzog: artist site (here)
  • Matthew Porter: artist site (here)
  • Ed Templeton: artist blog (here)
  • Hong-An Truong: artist site (here)
Perspectives 2010
Through September 12th

International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

Monday, July 19, 2010

Film: William Eggleston in the Real World

JTF (just the facts): Released in 2005 by Palm Pictures (here). 87 minutes. Directed by Michael Almereyda. (DVD cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: If you like your documentary biographies to be thorough and orderly, covering the span of the subject's life chronologically from beginning to end, with a deeper focus on the important highlights from the person's history, drawing conclusions about his/her larger influence in the world around us, then you will likely find this film highly unsatisfying. For the most part, this biopic is a series of reality vignettes, shot on hand held video: casual conversations, working photography trips, car rides, piano playing, downtime with family and friends, exhibition visits, and quiet walking. It gets into Eggleston's personal space and follows him around, silently tracking him as he works, watching as his eccentricities come forward. In the end, Eggleston remains stubbornly elusive, but the movie does a terrific job of capturing fragments of the fabric of his life.

I enjoyed most the segments of Eggleston actually shooting. There are many scenes where he is wandering, looking at unspectacular shop fronts or store windows, intermittently taking one or two pictures and then moving on. He stares at the giant rooster on top of a restaurant, a sideways pinata resting on a refrigerated case in a convenience store, and a cardboard man in a dinner jacket stuck against a deep green wall. Often, he is just walking and looking, both during the day and at night, with his parka hood over his head, his son Winston following at a distance to aid with a camera or a tripod. On the way back to Memphis, they stop to look at an abandoned house for sale along the roadside. It has a geometric green roof (that happens to be falling in), a spray painted sign, and amazing soft light and shadows in the empty interior rooms. By watching Eggleston move around and select his pictures, you can begin to see how his brain works, how his eye is drawn to certain compositions and color effects.

I also liked the sequence of Eggleston visiting his show at the Getty, riding the tram, taking pictures of the buildings like any other tourist, and wandering among the images on display, apparently without anyone recognizing who he was. The film claims he has made over 250000 photographs to date in his life, and he makes the comment that he liked the selection of pictures the curators had chosen. This seems to be emblematic of his reluctant approach to the art world; he hadn't obsessively controlled the exhibition, but rather he seemed like an outsider, viewing the work as something pleasant, but entirely foreign. In other parts of the film, he makes the shortest possible acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award, and refuses to engage in a discourse that the director wants to have about the underlying theoretical aspects of his work. He dismisses these issues as patently wrong and misguided, and not at all how he approaches his art; he seems to have no interest in putting his aesthetics into words, or thinks trying to do so is an impossible and generally stupid idea.

The film also does an excellent job of showing how varied Eggleston's artistic pursuits really are. He plays a synthesized organ and a regular piano, composing his own symphonies (played loud), and he draws intensely with pastels and colored pencils. Between moments of normal human ordinariness, with a heavy dose of drinking and smoking, he seems to be constantly creating, editing, looking and processing, generally only intermittently aware of the chaos or silence around him.

Overall, I think the film does a solid job of creating an eclectic yet somehow rounded picture of Eggleston as a fascinating, contradictory mix: talented, vulnerable, charming, eccentric, and stubborn. For those who want an unvarnished, unfinished view of the artist rather than a heroic historicized timeline, this documentary will be well worth putting in your Netflix queue.

Transit Hub:

  • Eggleston Trust (here)
  • Movie reviews: SF Chronicle (here), LA Times (here), Boston Globe (here)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book: Doug Aitken, 99 Cent Dreams

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2008 by Aspen Art Press (here). 216 pages, with a total of 273 color and black and white images. Includes a short introductory text by Heidi Zuckerman Jacobsen. The works in this volume were made between 1993 and 2007. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: Doug Aitken is probably best recognized as a talented video artist, a maker of large scale, multi-screen installations and environments. What is perhaps a little less well known is that he is also an accomplished photographer, using the still frame of the photograph to explore many of the same themes found in his videos and films. This hefty monograph collects a significant portion of his photographic output from the past decade and provides an effective introduction to his photographic aesthetic.

Taken together, Aitken's pictures have been edited down into an exercise in non-linear story telling, of taking a narrative thread in one direction, letting it morph into something adjacent, following a tangential idea and then doubling back, repeating and improvising on common ideas, ending up with a swirling, switch-backing set of vignettes and moments that coalesce into an overall description of a way of living and its many moods. It's hard to say exactly what these images are "about": perhaps they are about the dislocating effects of our frenetic, nomadic 21st century lifestyle, of how mind-numbing travel leads to isolation and loneliness, or of how we somehow find ourselves and the small fragments of wonder in the world, caught between something more memorable or important.

There are plenty of subjects and themes that come back again and again in this body of work: shadowy single figures silhouetted against windows, bright squint inducing light fixtures, empty waiting rooms, airplane portholes, anonymous hallways and darkened hotel suites, abandoned junk, people seen from the back, parking garages and bus stations, the detritus of our lives, and the quiet of twilight. Time seems to speed up and abruptly slow down in this story, leaving us trapped in a fog of jet-lagged, motion-sick melancholy, fixating on some detail for just long enough to see something a little surprising or unexpected before we are whisked forward to yet another disconnected, disorienting limbo zone.

While most of these images have a casual, snapshot aesthetic, there is a remarkable consistency of vision across more than a decade of Aitken's shooting. This is a book that has grown on me as I have looked at it again and again, the work revealing its secrets modestly and slowly, telling the story patiently as I tried to reconcile some of its seemingly more random inclusions. Not every image is by any means a stand out or would necessarily function well as a single, solitary photograph, but the careful sequencing of the pictures delivers something subtle but profound, a multi-layered portrait of a transitory, in-between world.

Collector’s POV: Doug Aitken is represented by 303 Gallery in New York (here), Regen Projects in Los Angeles (here), Victoria Miro in London (here), and Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich (here). His photographic work has become more consistently available in the secondary markets in recent seasons, with a handful of lots coming up for sale each year. Prices have ranged between $2000 and $55000, based roughly on physical size and the number of works in the edition.

Transit Hub:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book: Shadi Ghadirian, Iranian Photographer

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2008 by Saqi Books (here). 64 pages, with a total of 33 color and black and white images. Includes a foreword by Marta Weiss and an essay by Rose Issa. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

The book includes work from five different photographic series:
  • Untitled Qajar series, 1998-1999
  • Like Every Day series, 2001-2002
  • Censors' series, 2003-2004
  • Be Colourful series, 2004-2005
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del series, 2006-2007
Comments/Context: Shadi Ghadirian's photographs are a window into the lives of women in today's Iran, where traditional ways are constantly clashing with the tides of Western modernity. I was first introduced to Ghadirian's work several years ago, when I saw images from her terrific Qajar series. In these sepia toned black and white works (several of which are reproduced in this thin retrospective volume), the photographer has painstakingly re-created highly posed studio portraits from the 19th century, complete with painted backdrops and period clothing. She has then deftly introduced a variety of anachronistic modern props: a Pepsi can, a vacuum cleaner, Ray-Ban sunglasses, a mountain bike, or a portable stereo. The effect is both dissonant and contradictory, with an underlying layer of satire and sly wit. The pictures have a jarring personal audacity and rebelliousness, the women behaving in ways that we in the West would find ordinary or commonplace, but many in their own restrictive society would find entirely inappropriate, the mix of time periods highlighting how much or how little has changed.

Ghadirian's series Like Every Day takes on contemporary women's roles in a different manner. In these color works, she has taken portraits of patterned chadors worn by women inside their homes and replaced faces with everyday household implements: a rubber glove, an iron, a teapot, a cheese grater, a broom, or a cooking pot. My first reaction was that these were a light sendup of domesticity. But looking at them further and especially when the pictures were shown together as a typology, a deeper sense of controlled and repressed unease set in; the household duties of a newly married wife in Iran are meaningfully restricted to cooking and cleaning (most of the items were apparently wedding presents), providing little in the way of societal mobility. (Like Every Day, 2002, at right, via Kashya Hildebrand.)

Others works in this monograph tackle other facets of a confined world, with a particular dissection of censorship. While not every series is as successful as these two, Ghadirian is clearly making photographs that explore her own complex reality as an Iranian woman. It's an authentic perspective we don't see too much here in the West, and one that exposes a more nuanced story than we get on the evening news.

Collector’s POV: Shadi Ghadirian is represented by Silk Road Photo Gallery in Tehran (here), Aeroplastics Contemporary in Brussels (here), and Kashya Hildebrand in Zurich (here). Only a handful of her works have made it into the secondary markets for photography, finding buyers between $4000 and $8000. As such, gallery retail (from afar) is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. By the way, I think her work would have fit quite snugly into the Pictures by Women show currently on view at the MoMA (here). And while the current political environment might make bringing this work to New York more challenging, I would certainly enjoy seeing some of these images in person.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Features: Guardian (here), Telegraph (here), LACMA Unframed (here)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Programming Note

Now that summer is in full swing, the photographic art world goes into a deep slumber for the most part. This poses a bit of a problem for those of us who need a steady fix of thought provoking photography to get through the sweltering days.

So what will we write about this summer? Well, there are no auctions to cover, so that entire genre of reporting is out (much to the relief of some of you I'm sure). Long time readers here will remember that I have a pet peeve about summer group shows (see The Curse of the Summer Group Show from 2009, here), so while I will likely begrudgingly review one or two out of sheer desperation, most will not merit your attention (or deserve even one star), and thus will not get reviewed here. There will of course be a few regular solo gallery shows that slip through the cracks, and we'll try to catch these, as well as any other unexpected standouts as appropriate. I have purposely "warehoused" a few of the big museum shows that you might have been wondering about, so that I can cover them later when the sun is the hottest and I am most in need of something to write about. Don't worry, I'll get to them all, the gratification will just be a bit delayed.

To pick up the slack, there will be many more book reviews (I've already got a big stack ready and waiting, but am always in need of recommendations), as well as few more acerbic opinion pieces, essays and other more random photo-related inclusions. If there are topics or photographers (especially those who will not show in New York any time soon) that you think need covering, please shoot me an email with a tip. Otherwise, ratchet your expectations back to roughly one post per day while the sun is beating down, with a fair number of sizzling days where I will maddeningly leave you empty handed with nothing at all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jack Pierson, Go there now and take this with you @Bortolami

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 large scale color works, pinned directly to the wall (not framed), and hung intermittently on the walls of the front gallery space. Each of the images is a folded pigment print, in an edition of 3, in one of three sizes (or reverse): 83x62, 63x63 or 43x57. All of the works were made in 2010. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Jack Pierson's new photographs have an eye-catching posterish quality to them. Printed extra huge and folded as if to fit in a mailing envelope, they explode with vibrant colors, almost in the manner of stock photography. There is a pink pyramid, a goldfish, some yellow netting, a cross of white poles against a deep blue sky, a tombstone, an empty dirt road in the woods, various sunsets, a marble torso, and some palm fronds on fire. None of these subjects is at all new or inventive, nor are they taken with any particular artistic point of view, and yet, the pictures have been executed with such saturation and energy that it is hard not to be drawn in.

What I found most interesting here is was the underlying idea of mixing high and low art, the portable, much handled form factor of a poster in contrast to the venerated artwork protected under glass. The images are bold, like symbols of themselves, the kind of thing used as a decorative reminder or as a souvenir to cover a wall, something to identify with or trigger a personal memory. (Moyra Davey explored this same idea of the folded/mailed imagery in her recent show of work (here), although her pictures were smaller, more personal and intimate.)
Of course, these works are not actually posters, but expensive artworks in small editions. Some people will certainly frame them, even though that goes against the essence of their existence, further exposing the contrast between the everyman and the art collector. In the end, while the images themselves are relatively commonplace, I found this exploration of what defines the physical limits of photographic art quite a bit more compelling.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced between $15000 and $20000 based on size. Pierson is formally represented by Cheim & Read in New York (here), Regen Projects in Los Angeles (here), and Galerie Thaddeus Ropac in Paris/Salzburg (here). Pierson's photographs have come up for auction from time to time in recent years, roughly ranging in price between $2000 and $12000. Those works were however much smaller than what is on view in this exhibit, so take the price history with a grain of salt.

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

Transit Hub:
Through August 31st

510 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

Monday, July 12, 2010

Christian Marclay, Fourth of July @Cooper

JTF (just the facts): A total of 31 color photographic works, mounted and framed in light wood, and hung intermittently throughout the gallery space, including the entry/reception, the smaller front room, and the two larger back rooms, divided by an interior wall. All of the works are c-prints, torn into a variety of sizes, ranging from roughly 15x18 to 54x46. Each of the works is unique, and the unusual shapes created by the rips have been squared off into rectangular and square shaped frames. All of the works were made in 2005 and are untitled. A catalogue of the show is available from the gallery. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Christian Marclay's art lies in the intersection of music, performance, and visual representation, often mixing these mediums together to find new relationships between seeing and hearing. This show contains a group of Marclay's recent photographs, taken at a classic American Independence Day parade in Hyde Park, NY. The shots capture the various marching bands, the tricorne hats and period costumes, and the casual crowds of spectators on the sidewalks.

What is different here is that Marclay has blown up his snapshots to large size and then torn them into fragments. The effect is to isolate individual features of the parade: the side view of a bass drum, a mallet in motion, cymbals crashing, an elaborate vest, the black gloved fingers of a trumpet player, the chair of a spectator, or a head with a towel on it to keep cool. If you have ever stood and watched a small town parade like this one, you will remember the way the sound of the band changes as it moves past - certain instruments get louder and dominate your hearing/attention, and then they move on and new ones come forward in waves, even though they may all be playing the same tune. First there are flutes, then trumpets, then the thump of the bass drum, perhaps with a break to check out the rest of the crowd across the street. The installation and cropping of these photos does the same thing; it centers your brain on certain fragments and implied sounds, rather than on the overall picture of the parade, encouraging you to jump from one tonal picture to the next.
Individually, I'm not sure any of these photographs is particularly exciting or memorable. But taken as a group, in the context of the larger installation, there is something intellectually intriguing about Marclay's use of visual images to effectively evoke an auditory experience. His pictures make us hear with our eyes, playing back an internal soundtrack based on personal musical memory.

Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced between $10000 and $15000 based on size. Marclay's photographic works have not yet become routinely available in the major secondary markets for photography, making the creation of a relevant price history difficult. As such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

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

Transit Hub:

  • Christian Marclay: Festival @Whitney, 2010 (here)
  • NY Times review of Whitney show (here)
Through July 30th

Paula Cooper Gallery
534 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011

Auction Results: Italia, June 30, 2010 @Phillips London

Whether it was the arrival of the hot summer weather or the thinness of the material on offer, the results for Phillips' recent ITALIA themed sale didn't make much of a stir. The Buy-In rate for photography was over 50% and the Total Sale Proceeds from the photo lots missed the estimate range by a wide margin. This was the last photography-related sale of the season; we'll now take a much needed break from auction reporting until the action picks up again in the fall.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Total Lots: 73
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: £447400
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: £631100
Total Lots Sold: 35
Total Lots Bought In: 38
Buy In %: 52.05%
Total Sale Proceeds: £281125

Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 32
Low Sold: 13
Low Bought In: 19
Buy In %: 59.38%
Total Low Estimate: £110600
Total Low Sold: £40750

Mid Total Lots: 37
Mid Sold: 20
Mid Bought In: 17
Buy In %: 45.95%
Total Mid Estimate: £355500
Total Mid Sold: £196625

High Total Lots: 4
High Sold: 2
High Bought In: 2
Buy In %: 50.00%
Total High Estimate: £165000
Total High Sold: £43750

The top lot by High estimate was lot 120, David LaChapelle, Statue, Los Angeles, 2007, at £50000-70000; it did not sell. The top outcome of the sale was lot 14, Alighiero Boetti, E piove sempre sul bagnato, 1980, at £22500. (Image at right, via Phillips.)

While 97.14% of the lots that sold had proceeds above or in the estimate range, there were no surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate).

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book: Collier Schorr, Blumen

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2009 by steidlMACK (here). 104 pages, with 50 color plates. All of the works included were made between 2005 and 2008. There are no essays, texts, or captions. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: As collectors of floral imagery, we are always on the look out for contemporary photographers who are taking on the traditional floral still life in new ways. While Collier Schorr is likely better known for her masculine portraits of wrestlers and young men in military uniforms, for quite a few years now, she has been working on a project called Forests and Fields, where she has been documenting life (real and imagined) in the small German town of Schwabish Gmund; Blumen is the second volume in this series.

Schorr's florals are a perplexing mix of nature and artifice. Many of the images are staged out in rolling meadows of lush grasses and wildflowers, against skies that run the spectrum from clear blue to murky grey. Against this backdrop, she constructs strange temporary structures, made of thin sticks and string or fishing line, from which she suspends bright blooms which have been picked from nearby gardens. Like flies trapped in a spider web, the flowers are suspended in mid air, disconnected from the rest of their natural world, strung up in a mess of tangled wires.
While these juxtapositions are thoroughly staged and arranged, there is something surprisingly odd and compelling about these compositions. The combination of exotic, boldly colored, cultivated blooms (roses, zinnias, cosmos, cacti etc.) with the simplicity of the natural landscape or a nondescript wall creates a sense of unease that is further deepened by the weird bondage of the cut flowers hanging from the string matrix. (Arrangement #12 (Blumen), 2008, at right, via artnet.) There is an undercurrent of Araki or Mapplethorpe here, of ephemeral human control applied to the specific manipulation of the landscape. (Richard Learoyd also recently used a similar string contraption on a fish heart.) The images have a sense of heightened theater, of unexpected drama being created out of commonplace materials.
In many ways, these pictures don't fit any usual definition of a floral still life. And most of the other non-floral images in the volume continue this line of thinking. A jumble of tools, a plastic bucket with potatoes, a red backpack and a yellow plastic shopping bag, an overhead view of a grey floor, an astroturf tennis court, the shadows of geraniums, they all appear controlled, seemingly found abstractions, but perhaps not. As a result, the entire atmosphere of this book is a bit unnerving, where artificiality is cloaked in the normal.
In the end, I'm not sure that I am particularly moved by most of these floral constructions. That said, I certainly appreciate and applaud Schorr's willingness to do something original and radical to explore the boundaries of the form.
Collector’s POV: Collier Schorr is represented by 303 Gallery in New York (here), Modern Art in London (here), and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin (here). It appears that the floral prints from Blumen are generally printed quite large (between 38x31 and 49x41) and often come in editions of 5. Schorr's works have only intermittently been available in the secondary markets. For those lots that have become available, prices have ranged between $4000 and $10000.
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Book review: 5B4 (here)
  • Features: ArtForum (here), Guardian (here)
  • Interview: Dossier (here)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rineke Dijkstra @Marian Goodman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 3 videos and 4 large scale color portraits, displayed in separate darkened video rooms and hung in the north and south galleries. All of the photographs are larger than life size archival inkjet prints, each 48x40, in editions of 10, made in 2008 or 2009. The videos are:
  • 3-channel HD, 12 minutes, in an edition of 6, from 2009
  • 1-channel HD, 6 minutes, 36 seconds, in an edition of 6, from 2009
  • 4-channel HD, 25 minutes, in an edition of 6, from 2009
Unfortunately, no photography was allowed in the galleries; as a result, there are no installation shots for this exhibit. The images at right were taken from the gallery website. (Still from The Krazy House, Liverpool, UK, 2008- 2009, at right.)

Comments/Context: If you actually take the time to watch all five segments of Rineke Dijkstra's The Krazy House, to patiently stand there in the dark for the entire 25 minutes and drink it all in, I think it would be nearly impossible to leave the gallery without a broad smile on your face. Without a doubt, it is the warmest, most compelling and uplifting time I have had in an art gallery all year.
The artistic conceit at work here is relatively straightforward. Dijkstra constructed an all-white room in a Liverpool dance club, and she invited club goers to come and dance to their favorite tracks when the club was closed. At first glance, you might think that this concept has echoes of the simple, unadulterated joy of dancing found in the early Apple iPod ads or those from the Gap featuring swing dancers from a few years back, and on the surface, there are some parallels in terms of look and feel. But what is altogether more surprising is that Dijkstra's video is actually about a process, like the fantastic transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. In each segment, the young person starts out timid, self-conscious, painfully aware of the ridiculousness of dancing alone in front of white wall for a camera. They are all shy and tentative, unsure of themselves, only trying out the simplest of their moves. But in each case, as they get more comfortable and feel empowered by the music, something spectacular happens: they blossom into amazingly beautiful individuals, giddy with freedom and lost in themselves.
What is fascinating is how each person responds to the music, making movements that match their range of emotions. A young girl with lilting blond braids pulled back from her face slowly swings her hips, her bare arms waving over her head in a mellow trance. A young guy in jeans and a t-shirt rips his moves with choreographed precision, aggressively jerking his body up and down, exploding with energetic hand positions. Another young girl mouths the words, acts out the lyrics, and makes a heart with her fingers, as her bright laughter and huge contagious smile fill the room. And a young guy with long greasy black hair slashes his head back and forth with rhythmic, twisting drama, adding in ecstatic snippets of earnest air guitar for flair. The classic motif of the whole piece is at the end of his session, when the music stops and he closes himself back up: he lets slip a sly goofy grin, acknowledging his stolen moment of letting it all hang out. (Still from The Krazy House, Liverpool, UK, 2008-2009, at right.)
There are plenty of meaty ideas and questions buried in these dances, from how we attract others using constructed behaviors to how young people search for outlets for expressing themselves, and from how we assert our own personalities to how we protect ourselves from our own doubts and insecurities. In each case, the music takes over and the subject eventually lets his or her guard down to reveal something special and otherwise hidden. Dijkstra has also made still portraits of many of the women club goers, arrayed in their cheap finery and posed against uniform grey backgrounds in classic grace. These reveal much less than the videos, but raise many of the same subtle questions about the process of creating our identities.
The other two videos in the show capture an array of children responding to art at the Tate Liverpool: in one, the kids verbally respond to Picasso's Weeping Woman, and in the other, a single girl sits on the floor and makes a drawing in response to the painting. The first is particularly engrossing, as the children try to explain what they see. Like the dancers, in the beginning, the children are shy and uncomfortable, chewing on their fingernails, looking around, yawning, and fidgeting. Soon, they being to reluctantly talk about the colors they have picked out, and all at once, they seem to explode into a flood of increasingly fanciful ideas that build upon each other (the sliced three-screen display makes this interchange all the more swirling and chaotic). Like a wild jazz improvisation, the kids throw their ideas back and forth, connecting and embellishing them into imagined stories and creative vignettes, their individual personalities coming out from behind their common grey sweaters, white shirts, and red ties. In the abstract, Dijkstra seems to have captured the very essence of brainstorming, the uncontrolled conversational exchange where multiple perspectives interact and converge. In the second video, this coalescing occurs more subtly, as the single school girl sits quietly on the floor, looking back and forth between the picture and her pencil drawing, intermittently distracted by students nearby, until she finally becomes completely engrossed in her drawing and hardly notices the action around her. (Still from I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman), Tate Liverpool, 2009, at right.)
In all of these works, Dijkstra creates an inversion for the viewer, where the obvious subject turns out not to be the subject at all. These works are not about dancers or school kids exactly, but about the more complex idea of how we create and explore who we are, how we get immersed in something that lets us be free, if only for a moment. While some readers here might quibble that these artworks are mostly video not photography, I would respond that these videos are entirely photographic in their approach. The difference comes in that Dijkstra has tried to capture an invisible process not a subject, something that is fleeting and amorphous not stable, and a still frame just doesn't provide the richness needed to describe the changing and morphing she is trying to document.
Overall, I found this to be a tremendously impressive and entirely thought-provoking show, full of original conceptual ideas, expressed with maturity and executed with confidence. Simply put, to my eyes, this is the most exciting and memorable body of new contemporary work I have seen this year.
Collector's POV: The four photographs in this show are priced at 22000€ each. The three videos are respectively 65000€ (I See a Woman Crying), 50000€ (Ruth Drawing Picasso), and 85000€ (The Krazy House). Dijkstra's photographic work has become generally available at auction in the past few years, with prices ranging widely, from roughly $4000 to $180000, with a sweet spot between $10000 and $50000. She is also represented by Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin (here) and Galerie Jan Mot in Brussels (here).
Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:

  • Exhibit: Tate Liverpool, 2010 (here)
  • Review: Frieze, 2010 (here)
  • Features: Almerisa @MoMA (here), Guardian, 2010 (here)
Through August 21st

24 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019