Friday, November 30, 2012
Lynne Cohen, Occupied Territory 1971-1988 @Higher Pictures
JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 black and white photographs, framed in original marbled frames and matted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are vintage/early gelatin silver prints made between 1975 and 1982. 12 of the prints are 8x10 contact prints; the other 2 are sized 30x40 and have titles printed directly on the mats. No edition information was available on the checklist. The 1987 monograph of this body of work was recently reissued by Aperture (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: If Lynne Cohen's images of interiors were made today, we might easily mistake them for stage sets or ironic art installations. Their kitschy, dated unreality and odd, empty formality make them seem quietly preposterous, perfect for some arch conceptual twist or sideways social commentary. But the fact is these images were made more than three decades ago and depict actual found environments rather than mysterious constructed fictions. These offices, showrooms, and public spaces were indeed real places, making their blend of seriousness and unintentional absurdity all the more head-shakingly amusing.
As I circled the gallery, I found myself thinking that these pictures had a strong underlying kinship with Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan's Evidence series. There is something perplexing and unknowable about why a recording studio would be outfitted to look like an undersea world (complete with stuffed and mounted swordfish and tuna) or who would decorate an ordinary office with a dense flock of duck stencils, a tower of birdfeeders, and a few twisted tree branches on the floor. Cohen's interiors have an elaborateness to them, a controlled attention to detail that from a distance seems downright laughably puzzling. Why the taxidermied animal heads in the tiled stairwell? Or the woodland scene pinned up behind the badminton court? Or the floor-to-ceiling cloud wall in the drab office? I thoroughly enjoyed the orderly tile/brick/siding showroom, with its display of suitcase style arrays hung neatly on the peg board wall - it's just the kind of lonely weirdo salesroom I imagine to be inside one of Lewis Baltz' flat roofed industrial park office buildings.
Cohen brings a straightforward deadpan eye to these almost perfect simulations and oddball assemblages, bridging between late 1970s witty conceptualism and the New Topographics photographers' interest in the suburban built environment. Her pictures feel both steeped in the artistic issues of that particular moment and simultaneously remarkably fresh and smart. This is a body of work that has aged well, still as crisp, biting, and subtly hilarious as ever.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The 8x10 prints range from $6000 to $8000 each, while the 30x40 prints are $15000 each. Cohen's work has very little secondary market history, with only a handful of lots coming up for sale in the past decade. Those prints found buyers at prices ranging between $2000 and $5000.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Through December 8th
980 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075