Monday, November 28, 2011

Erwin Blumenfeld: Vintage Fashion @Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 30 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. All of the works are vintage gelatin silver enlargement prints, made between 1937 and 1962. Physical dimensions range between 12x8 and 20x16 (or reverse). A wall of Blumenfeld's Vogue covers is on display in the entry area. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Erwin Blumenfeld's fashion photography takes many of the visual motifs from Surrealism and Dada and mixes them together with stylish glamour in a manner driven by risk-taking experimentation. While his covers and spreads are full of the usual array of striking models in elegant designer clothing, it is his use of unexpected and unorthodox methods and manipulations that makes his images durably exciting.

This show is a parade of staged devices and darkroom machinations: multiple exposures layered and composited, mirrors used to multiply sitters, transparent screens used to veil bisected models, sideways and overhead camera angles, shadows and light in linear forms, and prints made extra graphic and contrasty. His ravishing silhouettes alternate between black and white like dancers in a line, and pure faces peer at each other or echo like matched twins, swaddled in folds of silk and loose jewels. Moments of classicism are simultaneously enhanced and undercut by Blumenfeld's twists on the usual; even the cliched cross hatched bars of the Eiffel Tower become fresh when paired with the billowy plaid patterns of a long dress blowing in the wind.

All of these images have the sense of the unconventional, of taking the agreed upon fashion formula and changing it up, pushing the edges of what the audience will find acceptable. The works also provide evidence for the beginning of an advertising-driven attention deficit (even in the 1940s and 1950s), of images that are trying hard to grab the viewer with something visually new, reacting against the noise in the background. As such, Blumenfeld's many striking innovations provide a bridge between the graceful beginnings of fashion photography and the explosion of extreme aesthetics that we now take for granted.

Collector's POV: The works in the show are priced between $22000 and $40000, with one print marked POR. Blumenfeld's photographs are often available in the secondary markets, with recent prices at auction ranging from $2000 to $58000.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Features: Trendland (here), T Magazine (here)
Erwin Blumenfeld: Vintage Fashion
Through January 7th

Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151

1 comment:

Katie Roberts said...

Beautiful show, but the prints are overpriced. The pricing verges on silly. What are these dealers thinking? Me thinks it must be contempt for collectors.