Monday, April 30, 2012

August Sander: Citizens of the Twentieth Century @Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 34 black and white photographs, framed in black and mounted, and hung against almond colored walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are posthumous gelatin silver prints with black borders, printed by Gerd Sander in 1990. 29 of the prints are roughly 10x7, in editions of 12. There are also 5 larger prints, ranging from 23x13 to 23x18 in size. The images were originally made by August Sander between 1906 and 1940. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: I doubt that there are any words worth adding to the celebration of August Sander's landmark photography project Citizens of the Twentieth Century. His ambitious and exhaustive portrait of the German people has influenced generations of photographers from across the globe, as evidenced by recent paired showings here in New York with both Seydou Keïta (here) and Boris Mikhailov (here). Edwynn Houk as recently taken on representation of the August Sander family collection, and this show is a foundation sampler of images from this iconic project.

The prints in this exhibit are not vintage rarities, but posthumous prints made by Gerd Sander relatively recently. So instead of the warm patina of age, they have a sharp crispness of silver tonality, making them seem surprisingly modern. The pastry cook, the bricklayer, the boxers, the three young farmers, the pairs of children, the soldier, they are all brisk and refreshed rather than tired. Several of the images have been enlarged to roughly twice the original size (I had never seen these before), but they too are clean and lively.

While this show doesn't give us any particularly new or original insights on August Sander, seeing a strong grouping of his portraits like this one never fails to impress. It's proof that greatness doesn't age, and that the true masters of the medium can be revisited time and again without becoming stale.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The 10x7 prints are either $4500 or $6000. The larger prints (roughly 23x16) are either $12000 or $18000. Sander's photographs are widely available in the secondary markets, including portraits, landscapes, and later prints/portfolios made by both Gunther and Gerd Sander. As a result, prices vary widely, from as little as $1000 for lesser known images to more than $100000 for iconic vintage portraits.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Feature: Wall Street Journal, 2008 (here)
  • Exhibit: SFMOMA, 2002 (here)
Through May 12th

Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mary Ellen Carroll: Federal, State, County and City @Third Streaming

JTF (just the facts): A total of 70 black and white and color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung in a single room gallery space with small dividing walls. 24 of the images are a set of cibachrome prints entitled Federal, each 20x24, editions of 5+1AP, from 2003. The other 66 images are a set of black and white Polaroids entitled Kruder and Dorfmeister, each 4x5, in a unique edition, from 1999-2000. The show also includes various letters, permits, and other ephemera from the Federal project, along with 2 large silkscreens on vellum, 3 watercolors, 1 neon sign and 1 work made of enamel on metal. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Mary Ellen Carrol's unassuming photographs of public architecture in Los Angeles raise a surprisingly rich set of conceptual questions. In two separate projects, she set out to document local government buildings, loosely drawing on formulas introduced by Ed Ruscha and the Bechers. But her results aren't bound up in clever groupings or rigorous variations; instead they probe both the nature of forgettable public structures and the changes in attitudes toward government after 9/11.

In Kruder and Dorfmeister, Carroll took straightforward black and white pictures of all 66 public libraries within the Los Angeles city limits. While most of the buildings are modest one story structures, an amazing variety of styles and approaches have been employed. There are libraries in strip malls, on street corners, in leafy neighborhoods, and in shopping storefronts, in every manner of brick, stucco, and institutional concrete imaginable. Unadorned and unimposing, they fade into the background, a nondescript government service both inextricably woven into the community and taken for granted. Nearly all of the libraries front the street in one way or another, a nod to the realities of LA's car culture.

In the Federal project, Carroll used a Guggenheim fellowship to fund an effort to film the Los Angeles Federal Building for 24 hours straight. While this project was clearly related to her previous work documenting other government buildings, in the aftermath of 9/11, the atmosphere of security and fear had dramatically changed the willingness to support such an activity. The countless letters, permits, approvals, and hoops she had to jump through over the course of a year and a half are evidence of just how reluctant the government was to cooperate. In effect, she was turning the tables, watching those who were now watching us (the FBI is one of the departments housed in this building), almost like a piece of performance art. The photographs themselves document a view from the LA National Cemetery, the bulky structure covered in a grid of windows. As the hours pass from day to night and back again, the lights in the offices go on and off, creating changing patterns of small blocks. There is an eerie sense of surveillance, in both directions.

I came away impressed by the symbolic nuances that Carroll has uncovered in government architecture, and by the shifting sense of what those buildings represent to us as citizens. While these photographs have a deadpan aesthetic, there is nothing cool and detached about them - the looking going on here is much more active and urgent than it appears.

Collector's POV: The photographs in this show are priced as follows. The Federal project portfolio of 24 prints is $38000, while the Kruder and Dorfmeister project set of 66 prints is also $38000. Carroll's work has 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)
  • Reviews: Artforum (here, scroll down), Artcritical (here)
Mary Ellen Carroll: Federal, State, County and City
Through May 19th

Third Streaming
10 Greene Street
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10013

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Checklist: 4/26/12

Checklist 4/26/12
Current New York Photography Shows

New reviews added this week in red.
(Rating: Artist/Title: Venue: Closing Date: link to review)


ONE STAR: Leonard Freed: Museum of the City of New York: May 6: review
TWO STARS: Francesca Woodman: Guggenheim: June 13: review
ONE STAR: Spies in the House of Art: Met: August 26: review
ONE STAR: Naked before the Camera: Met: September 9: review


ONE STAR: Peripheral Visions: Hunter College Art Galleries: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Matthew Pillsbury: Bonni Benrubi: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Frank Gohlke: Howard Greenberg: May 5: review
ONE STAR: August Sander/Boris Mikhailov: Pace/MacGill: May 5: review
TWO STARS: Magnum Contact Sheets: ICP: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Perspectives 2012: ICP: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Grey Villet: ICP: May 6: review
THREE STARS: Cindy Sherman: MoMA: June 11: review
THREE STARS: Weegee: ICP: September 2: review


ONE STAR: Stan Douglas: David Zwirner: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Brian Ulrich: Julie Saul: May 5: review
ONE STAR: Moyra Davey: Murray Guy: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Anne Collier: Anton Kern: May 12: review
TWO STARS: Alex Prager: Yancey Richardson: May 12: review
TWO STARS: Tim Hetherington: Yossi Milo: May 19: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

ONE STAR: Liu Bolin: Eli Klein: May 11: review
ONE STAR: Michael Collins: Janet Borden: May 15: review

Elsewhere Nearby

TWO STARS: Rising Dragon: Katonah Museum of Art: September 2: review

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Liu Bolin: Lost in Art @Klein

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 large scale color photographs,  unframed and hung in the two main gallery spaces, a small back room, and a portion of the downstairs gallery. All of the works are chromogenic prints, mounted on Sintra and faced with Plexi, and made between 2007 and 2011. The prints come in four sizes: 25x32, 37x47, 47x59, or 58x79, in edition sizes of 6 or 8. There are also two sculptures on display, from 2007 and 2012. A catalog of the exhibit is available from the gallery. The downstairs space includes an unrelated group of 22 diptychs by Zhang Dali. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: The eye-catching works of Chinese artist Liu Bolin are at once "photography" and "performance art", mixing the optical illusion effects of a camera-based image with the physical demands of an artistic performance. His underlying formula is remarkably consistent: find an appropriate location and then paint his entire body in such a way that he can stand in the scene and seem to disappear. The process is painstaking and lengthy, but the camouflage generally works and he becomes remarkably invisible.
My initial reaction to this conceptual approach was that it seemed like a gimmick, an overly decorative Where's Waldo kind of game. But when Liu chooses his settings well, the idea of a human becoming invisible starts to gain more power. In front of a wall of stuffed animal pandas or colorful soft drink cans, he's lost in consumerism and China's burgeoning economic power. In front of an outdoor kiosk covered in flyers from job seekers, he's lost in unemployment and the challenges of migration to the big cities. In front of the Ground Zero construction site and a wall of remembrance tiles here in New York, he's lost in the meanings and resonances of that event. The visual trickery is always clever; it's when the symbolism is well chosen that the motif is most successful. The exhibit also includes a selection of images made in collaboration with famous fashion designers. Jean Paul Gaultier and Angelea Missoni disappear into signature fabrics and patterns, while Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Piccioli of Valentino and Alber Elbaz of Lanvin vanish into displays of their work. The metaphorical message is less clear here, but the images are still striking. 
In many ways, these photographs are straightforward and easy to like. But the best of these works are more than just a sight gag; they offer layers of additional meanings and readings that go beyond the fun and magic. In my view, these are the images that will ultimately have the most durability, as they add complex cultural questions to the entertainment.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced based on size. The 25x32 prints are $9000, the 37x47 prints are $12000, the 47x59 prints are $15000, and the 58x79 prints are $36000. Liu's work has only just begun to find its way into the secondary markets for photography, but there have been too few sales to chart any kind of reliable price history. As such, gallery retail is still likely the best option for interested collectors.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: Harper's Bazaar (here), Time LightBox (here), Designboom (here), Fashionista (here), Arrested Motion (here)
Liu Bolin: Lost in Art
Through May 11th

Eli Klein Fine Art
462 West Broadway
New York, NY 10012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tim Hetherington @Milo

JTF (just the facts): A total of 35 color photographs and 2 videos,  hung in the front and back galleries and in a side viewing room. All of the prints are digital c-prints. The images from Liberia are framed in raw wood with no mat, and were taken between 2003 and 2007. The prints are sized 36x36 or 47x47, both in editions of 18+4AP. The images from Afghanistan are alternately framed in black and white with no mat, and were taken in 2008. The images are sized 18x24, 30x45, or 60x43 (or reverse), all in editions of 18+4AP. Both of these bodies of work have been released in book form: Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold published in 2009 by Umbrage (here) and Infidel published in 2010 by Chris Boot (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Tim Hetherington's show at Yossi Milo is at once both triumphant and disheartening. I sure this audience is already completely familiar with Hetherington's tragic story, and of his death last year covering the uprising in Libya. Here was an artist who routinely took his life in his hands to tell stories he thought were important, and who ultimately paid a massive price for this dedication. When I saw these pictures more closely and in more depth, it was hard not to feel a huge amount of respect for his talent and sacrifice, while also being heavily weighed down by the thoroughly discouraging outcome.
Hetherington's images of the conflict in Liberia are open ended and diffuse in terms of their narrative. They seem less intent on furthering a certain point of view and instead center on turns of color and composition, in the context of an active rebellion. A splash of red carpet punctuates an airport military parade, a blue wall poses as a backdrop for a band of child soldiers, lush green tree limbs are framed by jagged white tiles, and a red jacket is interrupted by the circle of a rubber tire. Tiny details provide anchors for formal, single frame stories: a casually placed grenade, a bloody foot, a plastic spoon tucked in a waistband, or a patterned dress offset by rockets in both hands. Together, the whole body of work is atmospheric, the murky orange dusk and the penetrating gaze of a child soldier providing an overarching sense for the feel of the place.
I think that Hetherington's images from Afghanistan will end up being THE images from this particular war; put them on the shelf with icons by Capa and Smith and the rest of pantheon of great war photographers. What is astounding about these pictures is their sense of being inside the brotherhood. The playful wrestling, the roughly applied kiss to a reluctant recipient, the Infidel tattoo worn with pride and honor, these are stolen moments of relaxed downtime in an otherwise horrific situation. The series of sleeping soldiers captures the real vulnerability of these heroes; they're not standing at attention in perfect dress uniforms, they're asleep like any other young men, mouths open, bodies curled up, like boys in bunk beds. These works are particularly poignant when hung as a large group, when nearly the whole squad is seen at rest. The individuals then become something universal, a representation of the fragility of those we send off to fight our battles. A short film (also called Sleeping Soldiers) then juxtaposes these calm still frames with the out of breath anxiety and tension of a firefight, with bombs going off, helicopters passing overhead, and echoing chaos all around. Together, they provide an extremely strong, visceral sense of what this war feels/felt like for those on the ground. (Restrepo, Hetherington's documentary film made with Sebastian Junger, tells this story much more broadly and is a must see.)

To get such an unvarnished, unguarded look at the reality of contemporary war is rare indeed, and Hetherington clearly needed to establish an unusual bond of trust to make these photographs. This then brings us back to the sadness of this show. The work itself is evidence of an increasingly mature and original artistic voice, but the story abruptly ends here. So while we can be rightly angry and frustrated by this turn of events, Hetherington's many indelible images of the human side of the throes of war provide a permanent record we can respectfully celebrate and remember.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced based as follows, based on the project/series. The images from both the Liberia series and the Afghanistan series range in price from $5000 to $9500, with multiple intermediate prices based on size and in ratcheting editions. Hetherington's work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best option for interested collectors at this point.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Magnum Photos page (here)
  • Reviews/Features: Washington Post (here), American Photo (here), Daily Beast (here), Stellazine (here), Examiner (here), Huffington Post (here)
Through May 19th

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Monday, April 23, 2012

Michael Collins: Pictures from the Hoo Peninsula @Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 color images, hung in the divided gallery space. The chromogenic color prints come in two sizes: 48x60 (framed in brown with no mat, in editions of 7) and 20x24 (framed in black and matted, in editions of 15); there are 7 images in the large size and 3 in the small size on display. All of the works were made in 2011 and 2012. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Michael Collins muted photographs of English marshlands and salt flats have the timeless quality of Dutch landscape paintings. In a palette of understated greens, browns, and greys, his images of rotting wooden barges at low tide seem like a mournful song for this lonely graveyard of beached carcasses. Time has left this place behind, and soon enough, muddy waters and stringy grasses will reclaim what's left of these abandoned hulks.

Collins' large format photographs are extremely detailed, so every decayed plank and seaweed covered hull is rendered with gorgeous crispness. The curved shapes of the barges still have a hint of their old elegance, but they are now mostly decomposing skeletons, the color leached out to an almost monochrome dullness. Stubby dock pilings stand up like bones in the misty skies, a path through the sand and grass leading nowhere. Barges are left to rot where they lay, as solitary sculptural figures or as jumbles of decomposing lumber washed together by the ebb and flow of the squelching water.

These pictures are quietly meditative and subtly romantic, and I think my takeaway from them is the thought that the contemporary landscape genre need not necessarily be postmodern, ironic and/or overtly harsh to be effective. These are well-crafted images that tell a small, rich story. They capture the passage of time, the evolution of the land, and the changing priorities of the community, all in a handful of elegantly silent frames.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced in ratcheting editions. The 48x60 prints start at $8000 and rise to $11000, while the 20x24 prints start at $3000 and rise to $5000. Collins' work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, 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)
  • Features/Reviews: Financial Times (here), New York Photo Review (here)
Michael Collins: Pictures from the Hoo Peninsula
Extended through May 15th

Janet Borden, Inc.
560 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography @Katonah Museum

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 75 works (116 total photographs) by 36 different Chinese artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung in the two main gallery spaces and the connecting entry area. All of the works were made between 1994 and 2011. The exhibit was curated by Miles Barth and will travel to the Krannert Art Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art. (Installation shots at right courtesy of the Katonah Museum of Art, photography by Margaret Fox.)
The following photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of photographs on view and image details in parentheses:
Righter Gallery
Adou (2 gelatin silver prints, 2006)
Chen Wei (1 archival inkjet print, 2010)
Jiang Pengyi (1 chromogenic print, 2009)
Li Lang (1 digital pigment print, 2001)
Li Wei (2 digital pigment prints, 2005, 2008)
Liyu + Liubo (6 digital chromogenic prints, 2006, 2007)
Liu Ren (1 digital chromogenic print, 2007)
Lu Guang (2 digital chromogenic prints, 2010)
Lu Hao (1 set of 4 color photographs, 1999)
Peng Rong (1 color photograph, 2008)
Qiu Zhijie (1 color coupler print, 2005)
Rong Rong (1 set of 4 hand tinted gelatin silver prints, 2000)
Wang Qingsong (1 set of 3 chromogenic prints, 2003)
Weng Fen (4 digital chromogenic prints, 2000, 2002, 2009)
Xu Zhen (2 digital chromogenic prints, 2005)
Yang Yi (1 digital pigment print, 2007)
Zhang Lijie (2 digital chromogenic prints, 2010, 2011)
Zhang Xiao (4 digital chromogenic prints, 2006-2008, 2007, 2008, 2009)
Beitzel Gallery
Cao Fei (1 digital chromogenic print, 2002)
Chen Qiulin (1 color photograph, 2002)
Huang Yan (1 chromogenic print, 2005)
Liu Zheng (12 gelatin silver prints, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, printed in 2006)
Muge (3 gelatin silver prints, 2004, 2006)
O Zhang (17 chromogenic prints installed in greenery, 2006)
O Zhang (3 digital chromogenic prints, 2008)
Sun Ji (1 digital pigment print, 2005)
Tamen (2 digital chromogenic prints, 2007)
Tian Taiquan (2 digital chromogenic prints, 2006)
Wang Jin (1 chromogenic print, 1995)
Wang Wusheng (3 gelatin silver prints, 2007)
Weng Fen (1 set of 10 digital chromogenic prints, 2001-2010)
Yao Lu (2 chromogenic prints, 2007, 2009)
Zhang Huan (1 set of 9 chromogenic prints, 2000)
Entry Area
Maleonn (3 digital chromogenic prints, 2005, 2006, 2007)
Yu Haibo (1 digital chromogenic print, 2005)
Zhou Hai (2 digital chromogenic prints, 2005)
Comments/Context: It's been eight long years since the groundbreaking 2004 ICP/Asia Society show of contemporary Chinese photography, and while the chaotic art scene in China continues to evolve at a blistering pace, from a fixed perch in New York, it's nearly impossible to stay current on what's actually going on. So it was with much anticipation that I made a visit to the Katonah Museum of Art's current group show, with the hopes of getting an update on how things have continued to change over the intervening years. If this tightly edited sampler-style exhibit is any guide to the reality on the ground, the melting pot of interconnected ideas surrounding the country's wholesale economic, social, and cultural transformation has become even more complicated and nuanced than expected, and the resulting art has moved beyond simplistic Chinese cliches intended for Western audiences to more mature investigations of everything from consumerism to environmental destruction.

While the show is not organized thematically, there are certainly a handful of underlying ideas that present themselves again and again in the chosen works. Given China's rich artistic and cultural history, it is inevitable that contemporary artists would be forced to thoughtfully engage with the past, picking through the centuries of excellence for those portions to discard and those to renew. This back and forth dialogue between the traditional arts and those of this moment is captured in a number of memorable pieces. Zhang Huan blackens his face with calligraphy, while Qiu Zhijie draws characters with light. Wang Wusheng makes imposing foggy mountainscapes reminiscent of ancient Chinese painting, while Yao Lu reinterprets these same forms using construction rubble and green netting. Huang Yan paints traditional landscapes on his face, and Wang Qingsong builds classic floral still lifes out of frozen meat and vegetables. Respect and subversion are offered in equal doses, highlighting the challenges of balancing the aesthetics of old and new.

Western style consumerism and the expansion of mega cities are another face of this old/new reconciliation. Cao Fei's dog faced people crawl on all fours dressed head to toe in Burberry plaid, while Li Lang's studio portraits of the traditional Yi people include boom boxes and bright white tennis shoes. Weng Fen has three separate bodies of strong work in this show that all touch on these related themes: a diptych of "family aspirations" which juxtaposes patriotic Mao suits/red dresses with Western suits/briefcases, a pair schoolgirl profiles against expansive modern cityscapes, and a William Christenberry-like series of ten images of the city of Haikou, which is slowly engulfed by massive urban sprawl. Li Wei's portrait of his wife and daughter, precariously seated on the raw girders of a new building while he is lifted feet first into the air, makes the personal uncertainty surrounding such rapid expansion all the more unsettling.

What we haven't seen as much of in the telling of the "new China" story is the rebirth of documentary and photojournalistic efforts. Happily, this show collects a number of examples of unflinching, nuanced reporting. Muge chronicles the societal transformations created by the Three Gorges Dam, while Zhou Hai documents the lives of steel workers. Environmental damage is captured by both Lu Guang and Zhang Xiao. And overlooked stories, from deformed citizens (Zhang Lijie) to mass produced art forgeries (Yu Haibo) finally have a voice. It is a hopeful sign that truth telling is becoming somewhat easier, after decades of suppression and censorship.

Finally, this show gathers together plenty of examples of quirky rule breaking and symbolic eclecticism. A man in a tuxedo marries a mule dressed in pink taffeta to protest his repeated visa denials (Wang Jin), dream-like sheep fill Tiananmen Square (Liu Ren), mechanical ants head toward the futuristic Water Cube (Peng Rong), kids pose in "Chinglish" t-shirts in front of historic landmarks (O Zhang), and groups of kids wrestle with PhotoShopped George Bush and Kofi Annan (Xu Zhen). Creative boundaries are being stretched, not always completely successfully, but at least with genuine freshness and spirit.

What I think I like best about this show is its quiet optimism. Of course, there are many complex perhaps intractable problems facing contemporary China, but this exhibit proves that the burgeoning artistic community is increasingly ready to meet these challenges, using everything from beauty and insight to mockery and satire to bring thoughtful, unvarnished context to these issues. New Yorkers, this is the best short term opportunity that you're likely to get to catch a glimpse of the current state of Chinese photography, so hop the Metro North train to Katonah and don't miss this well-chosen cross section of recent work.
Collector's POV: Given this is a museum show, there are, of course, no posted prices. While most of the photographers in this show lack New York gallery representation, I have listed below what I could track down for those that do. If there are other representation relationships in other cities in the US, or in China for that matter, please be encouraged to add them to the comments for the benefit of all:
  • Adou: Pace/MacGill Gallery (here)
  • Cao Fei: Lombard-Freid Projects (here)
  • Liu Zheng: Yossi Milo Gallery (here)
  • Muge: Anastasia Photo (here)
  • O Zhang: CRG Gallery (here)
  • Wang Wusheng: Barry Friedman (here)
  • Yao Lu: Bruce Silverstein Gallery (here)
  • Zhang Huan: Pace Gallery (here)
Similarly, very few of these artists have any secondary market history in the US. Zhang Huan and Wang Qingsong have the most consistent auction activity; for virtually all the rest, gallery retail is likely the only real option for interested collectors at this point, and this assumes being able to find an appropriate representative to contact, either here in New York or elsewhere.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: Bedford Record Review (here)
Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography
Through September 2nd

Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY 10536

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Checklist: 4/19/12

Checklist 4/19/12
Current New York Photography Shows

New reviews added this week in red.
(Rating: Artist/Title: Venue: Closing Date: link to review)


ONE STAR: Cecil Beaton: Museum of the City of New York: April 22: review
ONE STAR: Leonard Freed: Museum of the City of New York: May 6: review
TWO STARS: Francesca Woodman: Guggenheim: June 13: review
ONE STAR: Spies in the House of Art: Met: August 26: review
ONE STAR: Naked before the Camera: Met: September 9: review


ONE STAR: Peripheral Visions: Hunter College Art Galleries: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Matthew Pillsbury: Bonni Benrubi: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Frank Gohlke: Howard Greenberg: May 5: review
ONE STAR: August Sander/Boris Mikhailov: Pace/MacGill: May 5: review
TWO STARS: Magnum Contact Sheets: ICP: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Perspectives 2012: ICP: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Grey Villet: ICP: May 6: review
THREE STARS: Cindy Sherman: MoMA: June 11: review
THREE STARS: Weegee: ICP: September 2: review


TWO STARS: Paul Graham: Pace: April 21: review
TWO STARS: Shared Vision: Aperture: April 21: review
ONE STAR: Stan Douglas: David Zwirner: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Brian Ulrich: Julie Saul: May 5: review
ONE STAR: Moyra Davey: Murray Guy: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Anne Collier: Anton Kern: May 12: review
TWO STARS: Alex Prager: Yancey Richardson: May 12: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

No reviews at this time.

Elsewhere Nearby

No reviews at this time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Anne Collier @Kern

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 photographs, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. All of the works are c-prints, made in 2011 or 2012. In the main gallery, physical dimensions range from roughly 47x61 to 51x72; in the back room, all of the prints are 29x24 (or reverse), with one exception at 49x40. No edition size information was provided on the checklist. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Anne Collier's fascination with the conceptual underpinnings of photographic ephemera continues to be a rich vein for artistic exploration. Her recent work furthers her accumulation of paper-based cast-offs and found objects related to photography (record covers, books, calendars, magazines, postcards, and other items of less obvious categorization), which are then given antiseptic still life treatment in pure white surroundings. Her approach focuses our attention on these artifacts, and the cultural tendencies they indirectly represent.

While there are plenty of decontextualized nudes on view in the main room here, the most striking are those that were originally from camera ads. Product shots of cameras and text blurbs float in front of a casually posed black and white nude, artfully placed to partially conceal (or highlight) areas of attention. In another, entitled Caravaggio by Nikon, a nude woman emerges from a darkened background, covered by something approximating a hand towel. When placed in this pristine contemporary setting, their datedness is both absurd and revealing.

The postcard still lifes in the back room work their target viewers in a different way. Instead of using shapely nudes to attract men, cameras and light meters are placed amidst other accoutrements of high living: scotch, cigars, driving gloves, sunglasses, maps (and a globe), flowers, ties, and photo albums. These works almost look like Outerbridge still lifes, with their bold nostalgic colors. Their message that a camera is a must-have accessory for the well turned out man is clear. And once again, their outmoded details make them quirky evidence of changing attitudes.

Collier's detached, commercial photography approach to documenting these items adds a layer of increased scrutiny, beyond what an exhibit of the original materials would have provided. Her isolation makes the objects and their inherent worldviews more visible, sharpening our ability to see them for what they are and to consider how much has changed (or not) in the intervening years.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The larger prints in the  room are $18000 each. The smaller prints in the back room are $11000 each, with the larger image in the back at $16000. Collier's work has only just begun to find its way into the secondary markets, but there have been too few sales to chart any kind of reliable price history. As such, gallery retail is still likely the best option for interested collectors.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: Interview (here), Frieze (here)
Anne Collier
Through May 12th

Anton Kern Gallery
532 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alex Prager, Compulsion @Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color photographs, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the main gallery space, the project room, and throughout the office area. A short film, La Petite Mort, is being screened in a small side room. The chromogenic prints from Compulsion come in 9 paired diptychs (in editions of 6) consisting of one large image and one smaller image of an eye. The large images range in size from 48x20 to 59x72; the eyes are each 20x23. There is also one grid of six eyes which is 43x72 (in an edition of 3). The 6 film stills from La Petite Mort in the project room are each 13x25, in editions of 6. A signed catalog of the exhibit is available from the gallery for $35. Companion exhibits of the same body of work are also on view at M+B in Los Angeles (here) and Michael Hoppen in London (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: As Alex Prager's star rises in the world of contemporary photography, I'll admit to being a bit of a reluctant but emerging convert. It's undeniable that the hype around her work has reached a fever pitch. And when I asked for the show checklist, I got a reply I haven't heard in years: the show is basically sold out. What? I said. I visited the show after it had been open for roughly a week. Everything already gone, except for a few stragglers in the back room? That's certainly evidence of strong interest in her work. Good for her.

But so what's going on here? When I first wrote about Prager's work two years ago, I felt a very distinct Cindy Sherman echo. Nearly all of those images were portraits, many quite close up, and her retro styling and melodramatic scene setting felt like the Untitled Film Stills, with a more hysterical LA noir vibe. Cinematic references to Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch were thrown around like candy. That show was followed up by Prager's inclusion in MoMA's New Photography show in 2010 where she showed a mix of older work and her newest short film; this gave her an institutional stamp of approval and kicked off a few high profile commissions.

Fast forward a couple of years and Prager is back with a new body of work and another short film. At this point, the look and feel of her work has become a signature style. From saturated colors and women in trouble, to throwback dresses and big wigs, a Prager photograph is now easily identified from across a room. Her recent images step back quite a bit from the earlier intimate portraits and settle on wider scenes and atmospheric situations. Each narrative turns on a disaster: a house fire, a flood, a roadside accident (with a scary looking coyote), a sinkhole in the middle of 110, a capsized ferry with floundering passengers. Paired with each dreamlike setup is a single large eye, often doused with mascara (reminiscent of one-eyed Bill Brandts from decades earlier, but more dramatic). We're overly eager spectators at these tragedies, and being sternly watched at the same time. While the visual device is a bit heavy handed, it reinforces the feeling of Weegee-esque back-and-forth voyeurism.

The Sherman connection now seems overly simplistic. Prager has evolved her art toward the Vancouver crowd (Wall, Douglas, Graham) and their unique brand of staged reality. But she has done so on her own terms, with a distinct styling and bright Southern California light that is wholly her own. I struggle a bit with her craftsmanship, in that many of the images seem distractingly blurred or over enlarged, while others don't hide the crisp PhotoShop manipulations with enough deftness. But then again, maybe the kind of perfection I am expecting isn't necessary here. Perhaps that subtle roughness and obviousness is part of the loose allure of her brand of story telling.

All that said, many of the scenes on view here are striking and memorable. A woman hangs like a rag doll from the span of an electric tower, another is blown through the air (losing her purse in the process), a third is dangling from the bumper of a car, while a fourth is ensnared in a tangle of telephone wires. This is well constructed, puzzling tragedy, and the images have the feel of watching from an assembled crowd of gawkers. She's successfully built the suspense and drawn me in. The short film, La Petite Mort, running in the viewing room, expands this narrative form, as a woman is blown off a set of train tracks and into a nearby pond, only to emerge dry into the critical eyes of a group of bystanders, where she proceeds to faint/die. The dissonant dramatic music makes the whole thing seem simultaneously overdone and perfect tuned. It's a period piece, with a new layer of in-on-the-joke conceptual rework.

So is Prager's work a guilty pleasure or is it smartly mining visual/cultural stereotypes to create new kinds of contemporary story telling? I suppose it's both at some level, but I think she deserves credit for defining her own playing field and then consistently continuing to expand it. My conclusion is that it's overly easy to linger in the retro fabulousness of her world, and thereby overlook the fact that Prager's work is getting better and more complex with each successive project.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The Compulsion diptychs are $18000 (as a pair). Smaller individual images of the large scenes and of the eyes from Compulsion are available for $8000 and $6000 respectively (in editions of 9). The La Petite Mort prints are $6500 each. As I mentioned above, these prices are perhaps theoretical at this point if the show is well sold, so check with the gallery directly about what is still available. Prager's work has also started to show up the secondary markets in the past few years, with prices ranging from roughly $3000 to $17000.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews/Features: New York (here), Vogue (here)
Alex Prager, Compulsion
Through May 12th

Yancey Richardson Gallery
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, April 16, 2012

Moyra Davey, Spleen. Indolence. Torpor. Ill-humour. @Murray Guy

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 photographic works and 1 video,  hung in the North and South gallery spaces and the entry area. The North gallery contains the video, Les Goddesses, 61 minutes, in an edition of 5, from 2011. The entry area contains 1 unframed grid of 25 c-prints from 2012, each with postage, tape and ink. Each print is 12x17, and the work is unique. The South gallery contains 1 unframed grid of 16 c-prints from 2011, each with postage, tape, ink, and labels with text supplied by Lynne Tillman. Each print is 17x12, and the work comes in an edition of 3. This gallery also contains 5 triptychs and 1 singe image. These works are unframed gelatin silver prints, sized 20x16, in editions of 3, taken in 1979. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Moyra Davey's unabashedly analog, through-the-mail grids seem to have touched a curatorial nerve of late. They are intellectual, autobiographical, engaged with the written word, and an antidote (or corollary) to the flood of digital imagery that has engulfed photography. Her grids were included in the New Photography show at the MoMA last year and are now part of the Whitney Biennial (both linked below). Not many can claim that double play in such a short time span.

In this new show, Davey offers two recent grids, a video, and a selection of earlier vintage work. The Trust Me grid is a collection of still lifes: the contents of a medicine cabinet, a blue glass bottle, a group of shopping bags, a tiled wall, bugs caught in a spider web, strands of hair on the edge of a bathtub, a stuffed animal bunny, which are then woven together into a kind of anti-narrative form with snippets of text by Lynne Tillman. They are pictures about stories, rather than stories themselves. The Subway Writers grid is more literal; strangers on the subway read with a pencil, scribble in notebooks, or get lost in words amidst the chaos around them. They float in thought bubbles, oblivious to the din. It is writing as refuge from the crowd.

The vintage black and white photographs the South gallery have a Brown Sisters feel to them, but with an undercurrent of simmering sibling hostility. Four dark haired sisters pose in matching striped shirts, but there is a subtle closed reluctance here, a dark, arms crossed grudging compliance. Bodies are cut down into arrays of tattoos or tank tops in other shots, but the mix of familial emotions is never far from the surface. Davey probes some of this historical terrain in the video, Les Goddesses, where autobiographical scenes of family and close friends are examined via more cerebral investigations of various texts and essays. Her approach to telling (and/or reading) her personal story is inextricably mixed with a more rigorous arms length analysis.

I think the appeal of Davey's work at this particular moment in photographic history derives from the earnestness with which she is digging into the relevance of the photographic image in one's own personal history, as well as its connections to the written word as part of an overall redefined narrative form. In a time when the digital age is threatening to dumb down our discourse, Davey is re-exploring her own relationship with photography in a serious, high-minded, and thoughtful manner.

Collector's POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows. The grid in the entry space is $40000, while the grid in the South gallery is $45000. The vintage prints from 1979 are $18000 each. Davey's work has not yet reached the secondary market, so gallery retail is still the only viable option for interested collectors at this point.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Exhibits: New Photography 2011 @MoMA (here), Whitney Biennial 2012 (here)
Moyra Davey, Spleen. Indolence. Torpor. Ill-humour.
Through May 6th

Murray Guy
453 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011

Friday, April 13, 2012

Frank Gohlke, One Thing and Another @Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total of 34 black and white photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung in the main gallery space and the book alcove. The main exhibit includes 8 diptychs and 10 single images hung in pairs, while the book alcove has 16 single images. (Installation shots at right.)

The works in the show come from the following projects/series. For each, the number of works on view is listed, accompanied by additional print details:
  • Ten Minutes in North Texas (5 gelatin silver prints mounted to aluminum, each 53x38, in editions of 5, taken in 1995 and printed in 2011)
  • Unpacked (3 pigment prints, each 24x60, in editions of 5, taken in 2008-2009 and printed in 2012)
  • Aftermath (3 pairs of 2 gelatin silver prints, each 14x18, edition AP, taken in 1979/1980 and printed in 1980/1982)
  • Mt. St. Helens (2 pairs of 2 gelatin silver prints, each 10x24, in editions of 15, taken in 1983/1990 and printed in 1993)
  • Grain Elevators (9 gelatin silver prints, ranging from 7x7 to 14x11, taken and printed between 1972 and 1974)
  • Landscape/Untitiled (4 gelatin silver prints, ranging from 9x9 to 14x11, taken and printed between 1973 and 1975)
  • Untitled (3 Polaroid type 50 series prints as a set, each 3x4, unique, taken and printed in 1971-1972)
Comments/Context: I'm not sure if it is a larger trend or just a quirk of New York gallery scheduling, but this is the third show I've seen in the last month or so that has used paired images to explore the idea of elapsed time in photography. Frank Gohlke's use of this conceptual structure is altogether different than that of Paul Graham and Eve Sonneman however. In contrast to the jump cut, attention shifting jerkiness of these two, Gohlke's images are astonishingly calm and meditative. Time passes in Gohlke's works as well, but it does so deliberately, with ample time for reflection and investigation. The other glaring difference is that both Graham and Sonneman are primarily interested in activites and perceptions of the humans (or themselves), while Gohlke is centered on the evolution of the land.

Aside from a group of vintage grain elevators and other landscapes in the book alcove, all of the works in this show are diptychs or pairs, with varying amounts of time between the first and second images. In both his Mt. St. Helens volanco eruption photographs and in those made in the aftermath of a Witchita Falls tornado, Gohlke turns the usual "before and after" motif on its head, making it "after, and then later". The first image in each pair is a catalog of destruction: blown down trees, piles of ash and deep craters, or houses turned to rubble, roofs ripped off, and neighborhoods decimated. The second image is a story of healing, rebirth, and starting over, years later. New evergreens have sprouted up and craters have silted over, or straight sidewalks and new one story houses have once again become neat and tidy communities. Both man and nature are seen to be remarkably resilient in the face of disaster.

Gohlke's newest pictures shorten the interval between shots down considerably, in one series down to just ten minutes. In these deceptively unassuming images of broad Texas scrublands and prairies, the changes are extremely subtle: the path of the clouds, the wind on the grass, the movement of a river, or the shading of the sunlight. They require patience, and quiet, and contemplation, and they reveal a kind of solemn, pared down poetry of ever shifting tiny details. Their pleasures reside not in the cleverness of their conceptual framework, but in their deep and humble respect for the texture of the land itself.
The final set of pairs are a real surpise in the context of Gohlke's photographic history: paper abstractions made from carboard packing boxes. Piled up in clusters and jumbles of angles and geometries, and then alternately seen at different times of day or from slightly different viewpoints, they are intricate puzzles of lines and planes, full of formal realignment and dilation. What started out as a pile of throw away debris clearly turned into a more complicated exercise in photographic seeing.

Gohlke's work has an old school sense of nuance that we seem to be forgetting in these fast paced times. He still values rhythm and lyricism, tempered by thoughtfulness and a sense of history. He continues to look intently at the world around him, eschewing the interruptions and distractions, seeing the details that only come from consistent, sustained attention.
Collector's POV: The works in the show are priced as follows. The diptychs from Ten Minutes in North Texas and Unpacked are $10000 each. The pairs of prints from Aftermath are $20000 or $25000, while the pairs of prints from Mt. St. Helens are $10000. The vintage Grain Elevators are $10000 each, while the vintage landscapes are $15000 each. The set of Polaroids is $15000. Gohlke's work has only been intermittently available at auction in recent years. While prices have ranged between $3000 and $6000, this may not be entirely representative of the market for his best work. As such, gallery retail is likely still the best option for those collectors interested in following up.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Interview: (here)
Frank Gohlke, One Thing and Another
Through May 5th
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Guggenheim Fellows in Photography

Here's the short list of this year's Guggenheim Fellowship winners in Photography. (The entire list of current fellows can be found here.)

Elizabeth Barret (here)
Peter Bogardus (here)
Stephen DiRado (here)
Dornith Doherty (here)
Douglas DuBois (here)
Wendy Ewald (here)
Peter Galassi (no link, for history of photography)
John Gossage (here)
Bill Jacobsen (here)
Fazal Sheikh (here)
Sara Terry (here)

The Checklist: 4/12/12

Checklist 4/12/12
Current New York Photography Shows

New reviews added this week in red.
(Rating: Artist/Title: Venue: Closing Date: link to review)


ONE STAR: Cecil Beaton: Museum of the City of New York: April 22: review
ONE STAR: Leonard Freed: Museum of the City of New York: May 6: review
TWO STARS: Francesca Woodman: Guggenheim: June 13: review
ONE STAR: Spies in the House of Art: Met: August 26: review
ONE STAR: Naked before the Camera: Met: September 9: review


ONE STAR: Peripheral Visions: Hunter College Art Galleries: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Matthew Pillsbury: Bonni Benrubi: April 28: review
ONE STAR: August Sander/Boris Mikhailov: Pace/MacGill: May 5: review
TWO STARS: Magnum Contact Sheets: ICP: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Perspectives 2012: ICP: May 6: review
ONE STAR: Grey Villet: ICP: May 6: review
THREE STARS: Cindy Sherman: MoMA: June 11: review
THREE STARS: Weegee: ICP: September 2: review


ONE STAR: Mitch Epstein: Sikkema Jenkins: April 14: review
TWO STARS: Catherine Opie: Mitchell-Innes & Nash: April 14: review
TWO STARS: Paul Graham: Pace: April 21: review
TWO STARS: Shared Vision: Aperture: April 21: review
ONE STAR: Stan Douglas: David Zwirner: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Brian Ulrich: Julie Saul: May 5: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

No reviews at this time.

Elsewhere Nearby

No reviews at this time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Naked before the Camera @Met

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 75 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung (or displayed in cases) in a series of three connecting rooms on the museum's second floor. The exhibit was curated by Malcolm Daniel. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers/artists have been included in the exhibit, with the number of images on view and details in parentheses:

Room 1
Brassai (1 gelatin silver, 1931/1950s)
Nadar (1 salt, 1860-1861)
Julien Vallon de Villeneuve (1 salt, 1853)
Charles-Alphonse Marle (1 salt, 1855)
Franck-Francois-Genes Chauvassagnes (1 salt, 1856)
Eugene Durieu (1 albumen, 1853)
Felix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin (1 daguerreotype, 1850)
Unknown (1 daguerreotype, 1850)
Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1 albumen, 1857)
Unknown (1 albumen, 1870)
Gustave Le Gray (1 albumen, 1856)
Unknown (2 salt, 1856)
Thomas Eakins (1 platinum, 1885)
Louis Igout (1 book of albumen pose studies, 1880)
Unknown (1 book of albumen figure studies, 1890s)

Room 2
Nadar (1 albumen, 1860)
Oscar G. Mason (1 book with collotypes with applied color, 1880)
Alphonse Bertillon (1 book with gelatin silver prints, 1902)
Bertrall (3 cyanotypes, 1881)
Paul Wirz (2 gelatin silver, 1912, 1922)
George Washington Wilson (1 albumen, 1892)
Circle of Albert Londe (1 albumen, 1890)
Eadweard Muybridge (1 collotype, 1887)
Paul Wirz and Paul Baron de Rautenfeld (1 book with gelatin silver prints, 1925)
Brassai (3 gelatin silver, 1931, 1932/1950, 1932/1960)
Man Ray (2 gelatin silver, 1930, 1935)
Franz Roh (1 gelatin silver, 1922-1925)
Hans Bellmer (1 gelatin silver with applied color, 1936)
Andre Kertesz (1 gelatin silver, 1932)
Bill Brandt (4 gelatin silver, 1949, 1953, 1960, 1979)
William Larson (1 gelatin silver, 1966-1970)
Lady Ottoline Morrell (2 gelatin silver, 1916)
George Platt Lynes (1 gelatin silver, 1930)
Germaine Krull (1 gelatin silver, 1928-1929)
Edward Weston (3 gelatin silver, 1925, 1936/1954, 1936/1960)
Paul Outerbridge (1 carbo, 1936)
Unknown (4 gelatin silver, 1950s)
Guglielmo Pluschow (1 albumen, 1890s)
Unknown (1 daguerreotype, 1850)
Unknown (1 daguerreotype in wooden viewing case, 1854)

Room 3
Irving Penn (2 gelatin silver, 1949-1950)
Emmet Gowin (1 gelatin silver, 1967/1982)
Harry Callahan (2 gelatin silver, 1950, 1954)
Robert Mapplethorpe (1 gelatin silver, 1976)
Jennifer Johnson (1 platinum, 1995)
Diane Arbus (2 gelatin silver, 1963, 1968)
Garry Winogrand (1 gelatin silver, 1971)
Larry Clark (1 gelatin silver, 1972-1973)
John Goodman (1 gelatin silver, 1976)
John Coplans (1 gelatin silver, 1984)
Hannah Wilke (2 gelatin silver, 1978)
Jim Jager (1 gelatin silver, 1980)
Mark Morrisroe (1 gelatin silver, 1987)
Mark Beard (1 book of Polaroid transfers, 1992)
Robert Flynt (1 book of inkjet prints, 2009)

Comments/Context: I have to give the Met credit for trying to be more daring, at least in its own way. The flashy marquee lights with NAKED in all capitals announcing this small show are something one could have never imagined seeing in this hallowed institution a few years ago. But don't be fooled by the attempt at an erotic peep show atmosphere. While there are more full frontal penises than normal and a masturbating 19th century woman makes a cameo appearance, this is still a very conservative show, with a strong bias toward the old rather than the new. There is no bondage Araki, no explicit Heinecken, no confrontational Newton, no S&M Mapplethorpe or Opie, no huge blurry Ruff pornos. We're naked, but we're still at the Met.

As usual, the Met's powerhouse holdings in the 19th and early 20th century are the most impressive and coherent part of the exhibit. The first room of 19th century work holds some of the standouts of genre; the Nadar and Durieu nudes on view are two of the most elegant photographic nudes ever made, and the Eakins double male nude in platinum is an undeniable masterpiece. Moving into the next room, it becomes clear that Malcolm Daniel has taken an extremely broad reading of "naked" in this show. Where Stieglitz, Steichen, and the Pictorialists would normally be (most likely left out because they were recently on view, but still a glaring omission), there is a wall of scientific photographs (hermaphrodites, diseased bodies, and corpses), followed by another containing ethnographic and anthropological images (Indonesian pygmies, Zulu girls, and natives from Papua New Guinea). The challenge with this approach is that "naked" umbrella is so huge that nearly anything fits under it; I couldn't help but feel like randomness was starting to take over and the connections between the works were becoming less relevant.

The story then jumps to European modernism and surrealism with Brassai, Man Ray, Roh, and Bellmer, followed by an interlude of distortion with Kertesz, Brandt and William Larson. The ground is still pretty solid with Weston (doesn't the Met have better Charis on the sand prints than these two?), Penn, Callahan, and Gowin (I think a Minor White male nude would have worked well here too), but roughly post 1950, I lost the trail, and the show becomes more of a jumble. While the Mapplethorpe portrait of Patti Smith is of course an icon, I'm surprised than a more formal Mapplethorpe nude (either male or female) wasn't chosen. The Arbus portraits make sense (although they are very rippled/warped), but the Garry Winogrand street scene and the Hannah Wilke inclusions left me puzzled. With such a broad curatorial definition, anything goes I guess, but all three rooms could have been filled with images of naked performance artists, why the two of Wilke in particular? Another real mystery is why there is no color photography at all in this show, aside from the Outerbridge carbo on a side wall.

So while the intentions were good here, I think the execution is lacking, especially in connecting the vintage black and white work to the contemporary world. This isn't the first show in these rooms that has run off the rails as it left the 1950s. The Met needs to do a better job of connecting the dots between its vast holdings and more recent artistic activity when it takes on a broad topic like this one, or it should be happy to stay focused on its areas of traditional strength. The photography on view here is certainly of high quality, but the thematic construct is too diffuse to be very enlightening or educational.

Collector's POV: Given this is a museum show, there are obviously no posted prices for the works on display.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), Artnet (here), Daily Beast (here), Flavorwire (here), American Photo (here)
Through September 9th

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Francesca Woodman @Guggenheim

JTF (just the facts): A total of 125 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung in a winding series of rooms in the 4th floor annex galleries. The majority of the prints are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between 1975 and 1981. Physical dimensions range from roughly 3x3 to 40x40; the diazotype (blueprint) works are much larger, some as large as 37x92. Additional videos and artist's books are also on view. The show was curated by Corey Keller of SFMOMA. A hardback exhibition catalogue is available for $50 (here). (Installation views of  Francesca Woodman, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, March 16–June 13, 2012 courtesy of David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

The exhibition is divided into four chronological groups. For each section, I have listed the title and the number of works included:

Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978
58 gelatin silver prints
1 video screen (11 minutes of selected videos)

Italy, 1977-1978
31 gelatin silver prints
1 case (1 artist's book, 5 pages displayed)

MacDowell Colony, Peterborough County, NH, 1980
8 gelatin silver prints
1 diptych
1 triptych

New York, 1979-1981
17 gelatin silver prints
4 blue diazotypes
3 brown diazotypes
2 chromogenic prints
1 case (1 artist's book, 10 pages displayed)

Comments/Context: Early on in this comprehensive retrospective of Francesca Woodman, there is an image of the artist from 1975, standing in an abandoned room with two doors, wearing a flowered frock with a petticoat underneath, her arms and hands angled like she is casting a spell. My reaction to this picture was like a lightning strike: my God, I thought, look at how young she is. At this point, she is 17, in her freshman year at RISD. This show covers the next six years of her life: her years at school, her junior year abroad in Rome, a summer in New Hampshire, and her first few years trying to make it as an artist in New York, before she kills herself at the age of 22. Everything happens so fast, and suddenly she's gone.

The mythology that has grown up around Francesca Woodman since her death is as dense as a thicket. She has been adopted by an entire spectrum of academics and scholars, who have found nuggets of what they wanted to find in her many enigmatic pictures. She has been labeled a feminist, a Surrealist, a narcissist, a child prodigy, a Victorian Goth girl, a spiritualist, and a mature and gifted artist born fully formed. Having spent some time parsing a selection of these essays and thinking more carefully about the works on view, my conclusion is that she belongs in a Stieg Larsson title: The Girl Who Was Hijacked By Critics. The visual and subject matter seeds of these various theories are all there, it's the vehemence of the competiting and often contradictory arguments that seems over-reaching to me, given her short period of art making.

Corey Keller from SFMOMA has done a fantastic job of editing the work down into a clear and concise chronological summary, with well defined periods and coherent transitions. Her lucid catalog essay doesn't take sides, but offers a valuable sense of historical context. I resonated strongly with her connection to the 1978 MoMA show Mirrors and Windows, and placing Woodman in a line of psychological self expressionists going back to Minor White. I also found Rosalind Krauss' original analysis of the 1986 Wellesley/Hunter show to still be right on the mark. Her thesis is that Woodman's experimentation with space, with serial imagery, with formal elements and symbolic items, and with herself as a gestural nude model are all byproducts of the student problem sets she was doing (both assigned for class and self imposed).

As I traveled through the chopped up galleries, which do more to confuse the flow of the show than to support it by the way, I could see Woodman taking an idea and pushing at it, making it more personal, testing its edges. She climbs into glass cases, plays with plastic wrap and taxidermy, disappears into scraps of flaking wallpaper, and flits in and out of shadows like a blur. She casts herself as angels and demons, re-envisions empty space, and uses mirrors as both a space modifier and an introspective vehicle. More importantly, I had the strong impression that she didn't have it all figured out - she was searching and experimenting, and doing so with a level of youthful intensity, vulnerability and openness that makes her work refreshing. I was fascinated by her performative interactions with fly traps, eels, and splashes of black paint, and by her odd birch bark arm coverings from the summer interlude.

But let's be clear, she wasn't an artistic genius in college. She was undeniably talented, but still raw and unfinished (which is part of her allure). This is what makes her later work (just a few years later mind you) so achingly sad. In those final years, she was exploring a number of truly interesting directions. Her artist's book with rough shapes inserted into an Italian geometry text (an almost square, the curve of a chair) have the feel of a more cerebral Conceptual path. The large diazoptye collages of bridges/tiaras or zig zag arms seem to follow toward Rauschenberg (albeit in a personal, not obviously postmodern, way). Her two small color photographs buried on a side wall are much more mature in terms of her use of layers of angled space and striping; perhaps she might of had a career headed toward formal abstraction. And her experiments with lingerie, furs, and jewelry might have led her to a more aggressive feminism. I really was left with a sense of wow, given more time, she might have taken any or all of these roads to go somewhere strikingly new. She had all the raw material, but the story is incomplete.

In the end, I came away with a clearer conclusion about the messiness of Woodman's short artistic career. While this sounds contradictory, I found her both less impressive and more impressive than I had previously given her credit for. Less, in that I think the mania/cult of personality around her has clouded our judgment about her student work, and more, in that her best works are evidence of the beginning of something that might have been transformative. Of course, the story has no ending, except for the one we imagine, so there is no way to say whether she would have flown high or flamed out. So the debate will continue, with its extreme allusions and scholarly arguments, none of which can ever be proven wrong. It is my hope however that the crisp, even handedness of this well-constructed show will remind us that Francesca Woodman was a talented young woman with an entire artistic career ahead of her, and what we have as souvenirs of her life are small, preliminary fragments of what might have been.

Collector's POV: Given this is a museum retrospective, there are of course no posted prices. Woodman's work has been intermittently available in the secondary markets for more than a decade, with a handful of lots coming up for sale each year. Vintage gelatin silver prints have ranged from roughly $5000 to $45000 in recent years. I could only find one public diazotype sale in the last decade, at $52000. Collectors should also be aware of posthumous prints made in 1999, in editions of 40. Woodman is represented in New York by Marian Goodman Gallery (here), who has a small show of her diazotypes on view in the gallery's 3rd floor project space. In the recent run of art fairs, vintage Woodman GSPs seemed to be consistently retailing in the mid 30s. Also, Woodman's massive (and spectacular) Temple diazotype collage is on view in the Spies in the House of Art show at the Met (here).

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), New Yorker (here), Slate (here)
  • Exhibit: SFMOMA, 2011 (here)
Francesca Woodman
Through June 13th

1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128