Monday, February 14, 2011

Michael Huey, China Cupboard @Newman Popiashvili

JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 color images, generally framed in grey with no mat, and hung in the one room basement gallery (down the stairs from the street level). The works are c-prints mounted on aluminum, made between 2007 and 2011. Nearly all of the prints are 16x21, with 1 larger print at 45x59, and 1 smaller print at 18x16 (in a special red frame); all of the prints (regardless of size) come in editions of 5+2AP. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: The delicate china display still life has been a popular motif since the very beginnings of photography, starting most notably with William Henry Fox Talbot and continuing on through the 19th century with artists like Giorgio Sommer. Michael Huey has taken an updated look at this genre, making images of stacked dinnerware, shelves of everyday plates and cups, and display cases brimming with figurines and fancy collectibles.

The 21st century difference here is that Huey has reversed the palette, taking the negative values and then infusing some of them with pastel color. The effect is something like an x-ray or wearing night vision goggles, or perhaps an echo of Vera Lutter with a dash of painterly color. Light blue, aquamarine and soft orange diffuse through shelf backgrounds, while dishes and teapots turn pink and blue. The largest print on display is an enlargement of figurines, with finger sized people blown-up into imposing ghost statues with eerie coloration.

These kinds of images have always had a layer of simple formal beauty on the surface and deeper questions of who and why underneath. What does this collection of objects represent? Why were they chosen? What kind of person collects or uses these things? The complex visual effects that Huey has employed make the formal elements of these pictures more pronounced, familiar shapes and outlines becoming otherworldly, repetitions and patterns creating all-over compositions. But the questions of use and purpose remain obscure, seemingly obvious and yet surprisingly elusive.
Collector's POV: The images in the show are priced as follows. The small prints, either 18x16 or 16x21 are $4000 each; the single larger print (45x59) is $10000. Huey's work has not yet appeared in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.
My favorite image in the show was China Cupboard (no. 12), 2010; it's the center image in the bottom row in the middle installation shot. I liked both the ethereal contrasts of black/white and pink/blue on the modern forms and the black grid lines created by the framing of the shelves.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews: New Yorker (here), New York Observer (here)
  • Feature: Art in America (here)
Michael Huey, China Cupboard
Through February 23rd
Newman Popiashvili Gallery
504 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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