Comments/Context: It's been nearly a decade since Richard Misrach surprised us all with his On the Beach series. Made in reaction to the September 11th attacks, his aerial images of Hawaiian beaches astounded us with their enveloping, monumental scale and subtly reminded us of our vulnerability out there alone in the water. While many of the images were bright and sunny, with clusters of colorful beachgoers arrayed at the water's edge, there was a sense of something vaguely unsettling lurking underneath, adding a layer of tension to the idyllic vacation paradise. Misrach recently went back to his Honolulu hotel room perch and made a new series of bird's eye view pictures of the sea and sand. While the subject matter is arguably the same and the massive scale has been repeated, the mood of these pictures is subtly different, slightly more relaxed and meditative.
There are really two sets of photographs in this show, one with figures and one without. The images without tiny isolated people expand into all over abstractions, where dappled light bounces off the wave tops creating endless patterns of ripples. Misrach's palette is quietly muted, running from soft blues, greens, greys and tans, to darker bronzes and blacks. Given their size, standing in front of one of these ocean images is like getting lost in painterly texture, the entire surface an amorphous, undulating series of blobs and squiggles. While their detail is staggeringly precise up close, the sense of scale is lost without any identifiers; the water fans out like a series of dunes, stretching on for what might be feet or miles.
When even a single small figure is introduced to the sea or sand, the abstraction collapses and our eye is drawn to the central character. Now we're drawn back into the realm of narrative, where a guy with a book over his face, a determined swimmer, or a body wrapped in a pink towel becomes the tentative basis for a story. The best image in this group captures a solitary woman on a surfboard, looking away to the expanse of ocean in the darkening afternoon; her wistful presence turns the scene into something out of a 19th century Romantic painting, with the tiny figure in the foreground to remind us of the awe inspiring majesty of the vista. While Misrach has retained the sense of separation and distance in these pictures, the foreboding feeling of the previous works has been replaced with a more easy going mood - instead of struggling against the endless water, his figures execute perfect handstands and playfully perch on each other's shoulders.
In revisiting this series, Misrach seems to have been less concerned with recapturing a certain temperament and more seduced by the nuances of detailed texture. The subtle undercurrent of menace that permeated the first project is generally gone, replaced by a deeper interest in the changing surface of the water and the shifting footprints in the sand. With the setting afternoon sun comes a sense of contemplation, a slow mulling over of the endless cycles of ebb and flow.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The smallest 63x83 (plus or minus an inch or two in either direction) are priced at $55000 each. Intermediate sized works are either $65000 or $850000, and the largest works (88x146) are $90000 each. While this show is taking place at the Pace Gallery space on 25th Street, it is being jointly organized by Pace and Pace/MacGill Gallery (here). Richard Misrach is also represented on the West coast by Fraenkel Gallery (here).
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
- Features/Reviews: Daily Serving (here)