Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hannes Schmid: Cowboy @Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 large scale color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung in the entry, the main gallery space, and the smaller side room. All of the works are chromogenic prints on Fujicolor Crystal Archive paper mounted on Dibond. Physical dimensions are either 30x45 or 43x65 (or reverse), both in editions of 10; there are 8 images in the larger size and 6 images in the smaller size on display. The works are dated between 1996 and 2002 and were printed in 2011. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Hannes Schmid's photographs of cowboys in the American West have such an instantly recognizable, stylistic familiarity it's as if they have been embedded in our collective consciousness. And of course, as the basis for the famous Marlboro advertising campaigns, his images have become iconic symbols for the rugged masculinity and confident freedom of life on the range. Regardless of the specific works on view, Schmid's visual approach brings together the mythical and the aspirational, capturing a quality that many might now call uniquely American. Ropes and spurs, leather chaps, majestic vistas, herds of wild horses, saturated orange sunsets, silhouettes of rough hardworking men, it's all part of a cinematic sense of bold, romantic adventure.
Over the years, many of Schmid's most famous cowboy images have been appropriated by Richard Prince, who layered on a postmodern sense of suspicion and skepticism, where we were led to question the motivations behind the pictures and see them in a more ironic, almost mocking light. Given Prince's tremendous art world success, this point of view has become the dominant one, and it is nearly impossible to go back and see Schmid's photographs with a sense of rediscovered, original purity.

That Schmid took the subject of the American cowboy and transformed it into something profoundly memorable is, I think, without question. What is intriguing about his re-emergence now is that in the intervening years since they were made, layer upon layer of additional meanings and connections have been added to these pictures. This gives them a richness of ideas that goes beyond their visual content; they can be taken at face value and enjoyed for their dynamism (with a touch of nostalgic sentimentality) or they can be considered in the context of having been hijacked and recontextualized, forever symbols of someone else's intellectual irony. This show is an attempt to make the argument that both perspectives are valid, and that the photographs can stand on their own, regardless of, or perhaps in celebration of, the changing moods of the times.
Collector's POV: The works in the show are priced based on size; the 30x45 prints are $18000 each and the 43x65 prints are $24000 each. Schmid's photographs have 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: 
  • Artist site (here)
  • Review: New Yorker (here)
Through October 29th

Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151

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