Friday, October 26, 2012

Robert Adams, On Any Given Day in Spring and Light Balances @Marks

JTF (just the facts): A total of 75 black and white photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and a smaller second room in the back. All of the works are made up of gelatin silver prints, made between 2002 and 2012. There are single images, diptychs, triptychs, and groups of 4 prints. There are a total of 19 works (made up of 50 individual prints) in the main room from the series Light Balances, and a total of 13 works (made up of 25 individual prints) in the back room from the series On Any Given Day in Spring. Individual prints range in size from roughly 5x8 to 8x12 (or reverse). All of the works are unique. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Robert Adams' newest photographs are works of slow motion patience. Drained of the simmering frustration that inhabits much of his earlier work, these recent pictures are among his most meditative and subdued. They settle in for a long attentive look, letting the distractions of the day melt away and a heightened sense of respectful engagement with nature come forward.
Adams wanders through the Oregon forest in the images from Light Balances. Grouped into small bunches, they have the pace and rhythm of an ambling hike, with new views of the woods around each turn of the trail. The dense leaves and evergreens provide a backdrop for a study in the endless variation of sunlight and shadow. Adams peers through the canopy at silhouettes, examines the mottled surface of the forest floor, follows dark pinpricks of light through the undergrowth, and watches as the light turns trunks into imposing vertical forms. The pictures move in and out, catching a burst of light in an otherwise shaded glen, or waiting in the cool cover while the sun illuminates a nearby grove. The photographs play with collapsed distance and layered, overlapping branching, often looking gently up into a mixture of dappled, crisscrossing blackness.
The On Any Given Day in Spring series finds Adams on the Washington coast, watching the shorebirds peck at the sand as the waves move in and out. Between the sea, the sky, and the ever changing clusters of birds, these pictures are full of cycles and repetitions, following the peaceful cadences of nature. The flocks fly through the air in dark masses, wheel and spread, and settle into black bands on the beach. They gather in clusters, thin into dots, and soar into slashes against the muted grey of the seashore, leaving tiny footprints and tracks in the sand.
While I can certainly appreciate the richness and craftsmanship of these photographs, I think their hushed deliberateness makes them somewhat forgettable as individual artworks. Together, they are extremely successful at setting a mood and conveying a reflective mindset, but that intense absorption led me to daydreaming rather than specific engagement. In the end, in my mind, they all washed together into a wistful memory. Perhaps the answer is that these photographs will function better in book form, where their intimacy and delicacy can be savored more introspectively.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The single image works range from $14000 to $17500, the diptychs from $25000 to $35000, the triptychs from $35000 to $40000, and the groups of 4 prints are $50000 each. Adams' photographs have become increasingly available in the secondary markets in the past decade, with prices ranging between $5000 and $87000.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: NY Times (here), New Yorker (here), ARTINFO (here)
  • Exhibit: The Place We Live, Yale University Art Gallery, 2012 (DLK COLLECTION review here)
Through November 3rd
523 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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