Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Always the Young Strangers @Higher Pictures

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of a total of 29 works by 17 different photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the small main gallery space and the viewing alcove. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the show, with image numbers and details in parentheses:
  • Erica Allen (2 digital c-prints, each 14x11, editions of 3, 2008)
  • Cortney Andrews (2 videos with sound, editions of 3, 2010)
  • Talia Chetrit (2 gelatin silver prints, 24x20 and 20x16, editions of 4, 2010)
  • Jessica Eaton (1 archival pigment print, 40x30, edition of 3, 2010)
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier (1 photolithograph/silkscreen, 17x14, 2011)
  • Anna Krachey (1 archival pigment print, 18x25, edition of 4, 2010)
  • Jessica Labatte (1 archival inkjet print, 71x59, edition of 5, 2010)
  • Andrea Longacre-White (1 archival inkjet print, 36x24, unique, 2011)
  • Aspen Mays (2 gelatin silver prints, 12x16 and 7x5, unique, 2011, with bag of buttons)
  • MPA + Katherine Hubbard (6 polaroids, each 4x6, unique, 2010)
  • Yamini Nayar (1 c-print, 36x48, edition of 5, 2010)
  • Emily Roysdon (1 digital chromogenic print, paper litho, wood block, collage, 35x48, unique, 2010)
  • Carrie Schneider (1 c-print, 40x50, edition of 5, 2011)
  • Kate Steciw (1 c-print, 30x24, edition of 5, 2010)
  • Letha Wilson 1 c-print, cheesecloth, cement, 24x20x7, unique, 2011, and 1 wood frame, glass, cement, c-print, plywood, 17x13x2, unique, 2011)
  • Ann Woo (3 c-prints, each 14x11, editions of 5, 2009) 
Comments/Context: If this well-edited show is any indication, a contemporary photography revolution is underway, where the old truths and rules from the recent past have been rejected or simply left behind as irrelevant, and fresh ideas are springing forth to redefine what the medium can and should mean. If there is any one common theme to the diverse set of works on display here, it is a conscious deliberateness; there are no decisive moments or lucky shots here. In fact, these cerebral photographs make the consistent argument that it isn't enough just to do one simple or straightforward thing anymore; the cutting edge now requires combining and referencing all kinds of other artistic and visual sources, juxtaposing and remixing them into something more layered and thoughtful.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short essay on "digital craftsmanship" and the challenges faced by the increasing perfection offered by digital tools (here). As I reviewed the images in this show, I began to think that they can provide an unexpected answer to some of the questions raised by that discussion. If we take as a given that most photographers will no longer be able to differentiate themselves on printing craft alone, the "handmadeness" of the art, and the visceral touch of the artist, will need to come out in other ways. Nearly every image in this show turns on the process being used by the artist; I'm not talking about chemicals and print types (that's old school thinking), but the activity that takes place as part of (before, during, and after) the image making. A sense of brainy involvement pervades all of these works.

Many of the photographs on view are images of constructed environments, places for performances, or installations made solely to be photographed. Others employ analog, digital, and even physical processes to modify the nature of the imagery, moving it beyond the representational to the interpretive. Ideas are pushed and pulled and twisted back on themselves, blurring the definitional lines to which we have become accustomed. Terms like landscape, still life, portrait and even abstraction seem woefully inadequate as useful categorizations, since many of the works which might normally fall into one of those buckets actually function on multiple discrete levels.

While I can't say that every image hit the mark for me, this show is full of potential answers to the question of "where is photography headed?" These works are evidence of a growing rejection of the glossy, large scale, art object deadpan that has dominated contemporary photography for the past decade or two, and a potential return to the introspective, intellectual and personal. While no consensus has yet formed out of this swirling, chaotic multiplicity of competing ideas and hand crafted approaches, there are certainly enough data points to start to see a pattern emerging.

Collector's POV: The images in the show are priced as follows:
  • Erica Allen ($700 each)
  • Cortney Andrews ($2000 each)
  • Talia Chetrit ($3000 and $2500)
  • Jessica Eaton ($3500)
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier (NFS)
  • Anna Krachey ($1600)
  • Jessica Labatte ($8500)
  • Andrea Longacre-White ($1500)
  • Aspen Mays ($3500 and $3200)
  • MPA + Katherine Hubbard ($1000 each)
  • Yamini Nayar ($5000)
  • Emily Roysdon ($6500)
  • Carrie Schneider ($5000)
  • Kate Steciw ($1500)
  • Letha Wilson ($2500 and $1250)
  • Ann Woo ($650 each)
While a few of the photographers in this show may be familiar to collectors, none of the artists has any significant secondary market history; the work is just too new. As such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

My favorite image in the exhibit was Letha Wilson's Bryce Canyon Cement Pour, 2011; it's on the far left in the top installation shot. I liked it's conceptual mixing of artistic genres, where photography meets sculptural plywood and poured cement, referencing both Land Art and Minimalism.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: New York Times (here), New Yorker (here)
  • Letha Wilson artist site (here)
Always the Young Strangers
Through July 9th

Higher Pictures
764 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10065

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