Monday, July 25, 2011

Malick Sidibé @Shainman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 52 black and white photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung in the entry gallery and the main divided space in the back. 26 of the images are vintage gelatin silver prints framed in white blonde wood and matted; these works range in size from roughly 3x5 to 5x7, and were made between 1961 and 1986. 14 of the images are more recent gelatin silver prints of some of Sidibé's better known pictures, framed in black and matted; these prints range in size from 8x8 to 38x38 and were printed within the last 10 years. 11 of the works and 1 installation of 27 images tightly grouped together on one wall are surrounded by Sidibé's signature hand painted color frames made of glass and cardboard; these range in size from 9x6 to 20x16 and were made between 1965 and 2005. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This well-edited, approachable show of the work of Malian photographer Malick Sidibé has something for everyone, from those who have never been exposed to his exuberant portraits to those who are already dedicated followers and collectors. It successfully mixes vintage rarities and creased studio treasures with large scale modern prints of iconic images like Nuit de Noel and Regardez Moi, providing a cross section of his artistic output across several decades.

I don't think I will ever tire of Sidibé's funky studio portraits and energetic shots of dance parties in Bamako from the 1960s and 1970s; there is something thoroughly contagious about their optimism. A young woman shows of her new handbag while wearing a dress with huge white polka dots, a young man struts in an improvised sailor suit wearing big sunglasses, while another man is dressed head to toe in all white, including gloves and mirrored shades. Guys pose proudly near a white car, others show off records, and couples dance with tenderness and joy. Even when the young men and women square off, threatening to throw rocks at each other, there is a sense of unspoiled playfulness at work.

The show balances this liveliness with more formal studio portraits and head shots, many in traditional dress or highlighting a special hairstyle. Multi-generational families stand together solemnly in riots of patterned clothing, and a whole wall is covered by baby pictures, each with a special hand painted frame. I was particularly drawn to Sidibé's recent portraits of sitters with their backs to the camera. They are elegant and almost abstract, especially when the clothing and studio settings clash and echo each other; they trade a quiet simplicity for the fun-filled strutting and innocent performing of his other works.

While this show may not teach us much about Sidibé's work that wasn't already well known, its freshness and life, its style and swagger, are a welcome reminder that portraiture (even in its most traditional forms)need not be dour or self-consciously serious to be powerfully memorable.

Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The smaller vintage gelatin silver prints are either $3800 or $4800 each. The larger recent prints range from $5500 for the 8x8 size to $15000 for the 38x38 size. The single images in hand painted frames range from $4800 to $20000 each, and the group installation is $30000.

In general, most of the Sidibé prints to be found in the secondary market are later prints. More and more of these prints have sold at auction in recent years, with prices ranging from $2500 to $12500.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Interviews: lens culture (here), Index magazine (here)
Malick Sidibé
Through August 5th
Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011

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