Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Elger Esser @Sonnabend

JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 large scale color photographs, framed in light brown wood and unmatted, and hung in the entry gallery and two of the smaller rooms in the back (center and left). All of the works are c-prints on Diasec, made in 2011 and 2012. The prints come in one of two sizes: 73x95 or 55x73, both in editions of 7+1AP; there are 8 of the largest prints and 2 of the more medium sized prints in the show. The photographs were taken in Egypt and France. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Elger Esser's newest photographs take us back to familiar territory: standing at the water's edge, looking out to a broad landscape with a low horizon and a big featureless sky. They are variations on pictures we have seen before from Esser, but this does nothing to lessen their contemplative power. When he gets the proportions of land, sea, and sky just right and the soft hues diffuse across the frame like watercolors, they reach a meditative sublime that few contemporary photographers can match.
The images in the first two rooms of the show travel the length of the Nile River, like modern day Grand Tour pictures that hearken back to the masters of 19th century landscape photography. But there are no pyramids or Sphinxes here, only slow river scenes with traditional sailboats, sandy banks, and oasis-style greenery, all bathed in a dry, warm, washed out yellow light. Evidence of modernity is subtle and fleeting - geometric concrete building shells perched on the banks, the ghost of an electrical tower or telephone pole, new whitewashed buildings nestled into the hillside in front of a timeless, hazy mosque. Their elegance seems faded in the heat, the water quietly lapping at the hulls of wooden boats.
The works in the final back room come from France and explore nuances of pastel color more deeply. A concrete dock looks out on a light green sea, long exposure waves crashing over it like wispy white fog. A dark band of land bisects a composition in soft cornflower blue, with a slight tint of pink wandering through the sky. The red cupola of shoreline church punctuates a rocky shoreline in desolate yellow. And the layers of clouds above tiny Mont St. Michel in the distance settle into an ethereal blend of gorgeous light blue; in my view, this last image is a breathtaking showstopper, its enveloping presence far better in person than in my marginal installation shots.
While not every image in this show entirely hits the mark for me, the few that do find the center of the target are memorably magnificent. This show is like the refrain of the chorus at the end of a well known song, when the singer cranks it up a notch with a little extra flourish to keep it fresh and exciting. We've been down this road with Esser in the past, but he still has the power to astonish us with his timeless sense of grace.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced based on size, with the 73x95 prints at 40000€ each and the 55x73 prints at 25000€ each. Esser's work is now routinely available in the secondary markets for both photography and contemporary art, with recent prices ranging from $5000 to $110000, with a sweet spot between $25000 and $75000.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)

Elger Esser
Through March 16th

Sonnabend Gallery
536 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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