Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Legacy: Photographs from the Emily Fisher Landau Collection @Aldrich

JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 black and white and color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in a series of three connected rooms on the second floor of the museum. All of the works come from the collection of Emily Fisher Landau, and were made between 1980 and 2004. The exhibit also includes a camera obscura room. A catalog of the collection was published by Yale University Press in 2011 (here). There is no photography allowed in the galleries, so the installation shots at right are courtesy of the museum's Flickr page.

The following artists/photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of works and print details as background:
  • Richard Artschwager: 1 sculpture/photographs mounted on wood, 2002
  • Matthew Barney: 1 chromogenic print in self-lubricating frame, 2002
  • Keith Cottingham: 1 digital chromogenic print, 2004
  • Lynn Davis: 1 gold-toned gelatin silver print, 2000/2002
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia: 1 chromogenic print mounted on Plexiglas, 2000
  • John Dugdale: 1 hand-coated cyanotype, 1994
  • Nan Goldin: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1994
  • Rodney Graham: 1 chromogenic print, 1990
  • Robert Longo: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1980/1998
  • Vera Lutter: 1 gelatin silver print, 1996
  • Robert Mapplethorpe: 1 gelatin silver print, 1988
  • Abelardo Morell: 1 gelatin silver print, 2003
  • Shirin Neshat: 3 silver dye bleach prints, 2002
  • Victoria Sambunaris: 1 chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 2002
  • Lorna Simpson: 2 gelatin silver prints in framed with plaque, 1991
  • Kiki Smith, 4 chromogenic prints, 2000-2001
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto: 1 gelatin silver print, 1994

Comments/Context: Back in 2010, long-time trustee Emily Fisher Landau made a major donation of 367 artworks to the Whitney Museum. Selections from that massive gift have toured around to many smaller museums in the United States in the past few years, and this particular show pulls out a very small subset, focusing on some of the photography to be found in the collection. If this group of works can be taken as any guide, Fisher Landau's approach to contemporary photography has been to employ the "solid example from key figures" method, gathering an impressive list of important names and singular works. While the show is loosely organized into rooms of images with people, those without, and a handful of works related to the camera obscura room that has been installed as part of the exhibit, in essence, it's really more of a parade of exemplary photographs from the 1990s and early 2000s.
If a collection is built without a rigid thematic or conceptual structure/system to connect the various artworks together (as most collections are), the only way to look at it critically is to ask, for each individual artist selection, "did the collector pick a superlative example of the artist's work"? In general, I think there are some terrific choices on view here, many which would be considered among the best work done by that artist. There as an enormous, wall dominating, upside down tree by Rodney Graham, smartly flanked by a large Vera Lutter of the Fulton ferry landing with the Twin Towers in the distance. Other standout choices include the late Mapplethorpe self portrait (with skull head cane), the Sugimoto wax museum royal family, the Longo jerking suited man from Men in the Cities, and the Morell camera obscura image taken in the Whitney itself.
There are also a few less obvious selections which point to some inspired risk taking. Nan Goldin's swarm of cherry blossoms in Tokyo isn't exactly representative of her work, but is still quietly enchanting. Matthew Barney's array of Chryslers from the Cremaster series lacks the bold originality of many of the scenes from that project, but is nonetheless subtly surreal. And Richard Artschwager's child in a high chair sculpture wouldn't necessarily be considered photography, except that its blocky form is constructed by straight on photographs from every angle, creating a smart multi-perspective portrait.
So while it's hard to draw a line that connects all of the works on view here into a coherent whole, this small show certainly delivers a respectable mix of recent photography. I'm sure the larger Fisher Landau collection did plenty of welcome hole filling in the Whitney's permanent collection (in photography and other mediums), and with the new building opening soon, I'm hoping we'll slowly get a chance to see even more of its photographic treasures.
Collector's POV: Since this is a museum show, there are, of course, no posted prices, and given the wide diversity of works on view, we will forego the usual discussion of secondary markets and price histories.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Fisher Landau Center for Art site (here)
  • Feature: New York Times, 2010 (here)
Through September 2nd
258 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT 06877

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book: Dayanita Singh, File Room

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2013 by Steidl (here). Hardback/clothbound, 88 pages, with 70 black and white images. The book includes a series of texts by Aveek Sen and an artist interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: It is altogether fitting that Dayanita Singh's visual meditation on the nature of paper in our digital age should smell so good. It's the kind of book that rewards a nose pressed into the gutters and a deep lungful of breath, the sweet perfume of inks and rough tactile paper creating a real physical experience of what paper can mean. This simple sensual moment quickly pulls us down the rabbit hole and we are transported to Singh's surreal and magical world of Indian file rooms, each its own peculiar mountain of sagging, tilted, toppled papers. Fluorescent bulbs buzz overhead as we silently wander the narrow hallways of shelving in state archives and municipal offices, overwhelmed by the endless paperwork of bureaucracy.

At first glance, the groaning file rooms offer a nearly hopeless pessimism, a head shaking feeling of astonished helplessness in the face of such suffocating, ancient chaos. But then a glimmer of order starts to reveal itself; the ledgers, books, files and loose papers have been stacked, bound, and piled using a dizzying array of methods. They are tied together with twine, bundled with cloth like laundry, padlocked in cupboards, and stored in flat files. Small rooms and warehouses are stacked to the ceiling with metal shelves and wooden cabinets, with cubby holes, lockers, trunks and boxes providing additional organization. Papers are heaped on every available surface, but their fluttering, jagged edges become regular horizontal lines and flat angles. Every room is its own unbelievable system, the labyrinthine domain of a human archivist who knows where things are.

Sometimes this person is a head peeking out from a sea of files, but mostly the archivist is absent, represented by a clean table and chair where work is done. While the papers encroach from all sides, the table is a tiny oasis of free space, a place where the battle for order is won. When an archivist is present, he or she seems to radiate quiet confidence and competent pride, certain that the arcane symbols and unknowable numerical markings on the shelving will lead to the right answers with swift efficiency. Singh's photographs document both the physical manifestation of complex systems of coding and classification and the human element that makes the systems work, organizing principles that are at once hidden and entirely visible.

In our age of digital bits, these images tell the age old story of bureaucratic paper with rich, dusty sympathy. There is a unruly beauty to these dark, magical rooms, where history and memory are slowly fading to nothingness. Once important papers are now neglected or forgotten, fused together by moisture and decay. The photographs are a reminder of the precariousness of memory, of how history is so easily lost. In a certain way, Singh's Indian file room project is like an archive of archives, an attempt to capture something important before it disappears, and not unlike the efforts of the Bechers to document various vanishing industrial forms. Her photographs tell the story of how we used to do things, with a sense of wonder and nostalgia that makes the pictures engrossing.

To my eye, there is something grandly mysterious about Singh's anachronistic file rooms, full of secrets and intrigues, buried under an avalanche of paper. Order and disorder shift back and forth like two sides of a coin, and shadowy figures wait to unlock the past for those with the right questions. These places seem like sets out of fantastical literature, but are clearly rooted in the punishingly mundane realities of decades of government work. File Room is the kind of book to get lost in, a glimpse of a world that seems too odd to be true.

Collector’s POV: Dayanita Singh is represented by Frith Street Gallery in London (here); she doesn't appear to have New York representation. Her work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Deutscher Pavillon at Venice Biennale, 2013 (here)
  • Feature: Financial Times (here)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Snap Noir: Snapshot Stories from the Collection of Robert E. Jackson @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A total of 61 black and white photographs, framed in white/black and matted, and hung against grey and white walls in the main rooms of the gallery. All of the photographs are vintage gelatin silver prints, made by unknown photographers from generally undated negatives. The prints are arranged into groups ranging in size from 4 to 21 prints. All of the prints come from the collection of Robert E. Jackson. There is no photography allowed in the gallery, so the installation shots at right are via the Pace/MacGill website.
Comments/Context: The dividing line between art photography and vernacular photography has always been a bit murkier than we might like to admit. Definitionally, we might say that it all comes down to original intent: in an art photograph, the person clicking the shutter was consciously making an artwork, while in a vernacular photograph, that same person might have been making a snapshot, documenting something of note, or acting for an infinite number of other reasons, except for making an artwork. Where things get a little bit more troublesome is that down the line, years later, it is altogether possible to see vernacular photographs with new eyes, where their original purpose or context is entirely removed, and their underlying artistic merit comes forth. Across the history of the medium, this has happened time and again, where images made for scientific, evidentiary, or documentary purposes (by photographers known and unknown) have been placed in the white walled context of a museum or gallery and have been instantly transformed into "art", not by some decree from on high, but by the intrinsic artistic merits of the images themselves.
This show gathers together a small sampler from the vast collection of found/vernacular photographs assembled by Robert E. Jackson and directly confronts this recontextualization issue. The images are grouped into sets, with common subjects and themes tying the photographs together, some apparently taken by a single photographer, others likely made by many different shooters. The first two groups track personal eccentricity: a grown woman posing with her stuffed animal bunny and a man in sunglasses showing off a seemingly endless wardrobe of tight swimsuits/briefs. Other sets find a more voyeuristic tone: cocktail-drinking deck chair inhabitants seen from behind, multiple images of a topless woman through an open doorway, and a selection of views through chain link fences. The largest group is a parade of the ominous and slightly odd: a pair of women in gasmasks, a man holding a deer carcass, a surreal stare near a waffle, a boy with a gun, a woman with a snake, with incidents with choking, whipping, and Halloween masks mixed in for good measure. Taken out of their original context and resequenced here, the images effectively take on the slightly creepy, noir mood intended.
I think this editing and selection of found photographs raises an intriguing question about artistic and/or curatorial intent. What if the press release had not told us about a selection of vernacular images from the vast collection of Robert E. Jackson, but it had instead introduced the artworks of Robert E. Jackson, made up of found appropriated and recontextualized found photographs? Would we react to them differently? What we are being shown here is partially Jackson's vision, his decisions about the creation of typologies and sets and his imposition of implied relationship or connection; the individual photographs (however wonderful or unexpected) are merely the (appropriated) raw material used to implement a particular edited point of view. A choice was clearly made to show (and sell) the photographs in series form rather than as a selection of singular images, and yet, in the end, we are asked to step back from that idea and return to the broader concept of vernacular photographs offering a multitude of potential interpretations; these groupings are just one, arguably temporary, approach to the vast image database of a huge collection like Jackson's.
The result is a show that is infused with a kind of inescapable mystery. The questions we have about the actual details of these images are unknowable, and so we are left with their formal qualities and the flights of our collective imagination to make sense of what we see. But that ambiguity is surprisingly powerful, forcing us to get away from reading wall labels and sizing up artistic reputations and back to just looking at the photographs themselves and seeing what surprises they have to offer.
Collector's POV: The groups of photographs in this show are priced based on the number of prints in the set, ranging from $2000 to $9500. Since the photographers are anonymous, there is no secondary market history available for any of the artists.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Exhibit: The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978 @NGA, 2007 (here)
  • Interview: Design Observer (here)
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker (here)
Through August 21st
32 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book: Alec Soth and Brad Zellar, LBM Dispatch #5: Colorado

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2013 by Little Brown Mushroom (here). Newsprint, 48 pages, with 42 black and white images taken by Alec Soth. Most of the photographs are accompanied by texts by Brad Zellar, and/or by quotes from James Galvin, EE Cummings, Willa Cather, and others. (Spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: While photocopied and small run artists' zines have long been part of an amorphous underground publishing community, there is no doubt that the explosion of economically viable self publishing options that have emerged in the past few years has dramatically reshaped the photo book industry. While major titles with superlative printing and design may still follow more traditional production paths and release schedules, the do-it-yourself disruption has led to a flourishing of book making creativity and innovation, and a fast moving landslide of publications that don't look and feel like we expect them to. The five crammed shelves of revolutionary photobooks included in this year's ICP Triennial are a testament to just how important this phenomenon has become to the way we are experiencing contemporary photography.
The LBM Dispatch series from Alec Soth and Brad Zellar is a fantastic example of how newfound publishing freedoms have allowed artists to follow their own interests more precisely. Their "books" are nearly the opposite of what we've been taught to appreciate: they're big (tabloid sized), they're printed on cheap disposable paper (newsprint), they're relatively inexpensive, and they reject the normal "parade of solitary imagery" approach by liberally mixing photographs and text. But by breaking all the rules, what Soth and Zellar have really done is simply matched form to function, molding the in-your-hands physical display to fit the kind of serial storytelling they want to do, which by the way, is a kind of storytelling that they've had to reinvent because it's been overlooked for so long.
At the simplest level, the LBM Dispatch project falls into the long American tradition of expedition and road trip photography. Walking in the footsteps of everyone from Timothy O'Sullivan to Robert Frank, Soth and Zellar have headed out on rambling open ended trips and documented what they've found. But unlike their predecessors, Soth and Zellar have brought prose much more fully into the artistic end product; the texts here are not addendums or afterthoughts, but integrated parts of the collaborative storytelling experience. While the James Agee/Walker Evans team is certainly once precedent, I think there is stronger kinship here with the work of Wright Morris, where text and pictures were used with nearly equal brilliance to capture the nuances of specific American places and times.
In this particular issue, Soth and Zellar have driven the roads of Colorado, taking in healthy gulps of mountain vistas and frontier spirit. While their trips clearly have a dose of serendipity, these are not really random moments; they've done their homework, read their history, and are looking for certain kinds of encounters that will touch on larger themes. This method of building up a narrative is well suited to Soth's approach to photography; he has never been one to be pigeon holed into just portraits, landscapes, still lifes, or any other type or subject matter, so this kind of vignette-driven storytelling fits well with his natural working style. While rugged snowy mountains and huge storm clouds are an inescapable part of any portrait of Colorado, Soth and Zellar have dug deeper than the stunning landscape, probing the edges of local communities, common folklore, and the undercurrent of violence seemingly inherent to life in this wide open country.
Many of Soth's photographs in this book are portraits of people and objects, seen with an open, unassuming honesty that allows a sliver of the surreal to slip in nearly undetected: a bearded man stands in front of an enormous pile of antlers, while another sports a plastic mask of Doc Holliday, and a woman in formal riding gear waits for her horse perched on a set of stairs, while another beams in her colonial frontier dress amid a row of parked cars. Often, the still life objects and places are secondary evidence, physical remains with some additional resonance: a tombstone of a famous cannibal, the path leading to the Columbine High School memorial, a bullet hole in the wall at Focus on the Family, a rusted out, pock-marked car in the dust near the home of the Dragon Man, a plastic bear torso at a local archery club. Each image tells its own self contained mini-story, and contributes to the weaving of a larger non-linear tapestry of collective impressions.
Zellar's words are equally important to the overall rhythm of this collaboration. Some of his contributions are casual, quirky interviews with the portrait sitters, often laced with nuggets of personal history or pithy wisdom. Others are background explanations, reflections, or poetry selections, incomplete hints of something more, but just enough to give us some context or a narrative handhold to grasp. The cadence of his voice is quiet and conversational, generally pared back to essentials and lacking in showy verbal flourishes, with a soft, poetic irony that is at once true to the facts and open to interpretation. His texts are easy going and approachable, authentically curious in their search for meaning, but appropriately ambiguous and open ended. Perhaps most amazingly, Zellar and Soth have got the artistic balance just right, where the mood of the photographs and the content and style of the prose never compete or trample on one another.
What I like best about this collaboration is that it has produced a truly personal riff on visual storytelling. They have blatantly disregarded the notion that words and photographs have no business mixing together, and instead have embraced the combination of forms as a more flexible method of communicating their own kind of mysterious narrative. They have resolutely camped out in no man's land, bring prose that is more than a caption but less than an essay into direct conversation with individual images, allowing each photograph to open up further. And they have rejected the notion that such a product need thump down on your coffee table, and have instead offered us a physical form that can be enjoyed with unassuming pleasure. All in, Soth and Zellar have taken a bunch of obvious risks and delivered something of unpretentious grace and genius, a product that elegantly fits both who they are and the way they see the world.
Collector’s POV: Alec Soth is represented by Sean Kelly Gallery in New York (here). Soth's photographs have begun to appear in the secondary markets more regularity in recent years, with prices ranging from roughly $4000 to $22000.
Transit Hub:
  • Alec Soth artist site (here)
  • Alec Soth - Magnum Photos page (here)
  • LBM Dispatch tumblr (here)
  • Feature: Vice (here)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Checklist: 7/25/13

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


TWO STARS: William Eggleston: Met: July 28: review


ONE STAR: Oliver Gagliani: Gitterman: August 9: review
THREE STARS: Bill Brandt: MoMA: August 12: review
TWO STARS: John Baldessari: Marian Goodman: August 23: review
ONE STAR: XL: MoMA: January 6: review


ONE STAR: Laurel Nakadate: Leslie Tonkonow: July 26: review
TWO STARS: Takuma Nakahira: Yossi Milo: July 26: review
ONE STAR: Rebecca Norris Webb: Ricco Maresca: August 17: review
ONE STAR: Under My Skin: Flowers: August 24: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

ONE STAR: Jimmy DeSana: Salon 94 Bowery: August 9: review

Elsewhere Nearby

ONE STAR: LaToya Ruby Frazier: Brooklyn Museum: August 11: review
ONE STAR: Ansel Adams: MoMA PS1: September 2: review

Forward Auction Calendar
New auctions added this week in red.
(Sale Date: Sale Title: Auction House: link to catalog)

 No previews at this time.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

John Baldessari, Installation Works: 1987-1989 @Goodman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 3 large scale photographic installations, displayed in the north and south galleries and in the smaller north viewing room. The works are made up of archival pigment prints or vintage black and white/color photographs, with latex/oil paint and oil tints; the modern prints are mounted on Lexan or Plexiglas. The works were made between 1987 and 1989, with some of the prints made in 2013. Dimensions are variable. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This show takes us back to the late 1980s, to a focal point in the long artistic career of John Baldessari. In the earlier part of that decade, Baldessari's multi-part photocompositions of film stills and found photographs had been critically well received, and the conceptual underpinnings of appropriation and mediated viewing which had been so much a part of the CalArts way of thinking were becoming more broadly accepted. By the end of the decade, Baldessari had started to experiment with larger installations of these multi-part works, extending and expanding the way they were presented. The three works on view here provide a snapshot of that particular period of time, and highlight how Baldessari was challenging conventional notions of viewing space.

While these works include many of Baldessari's important visual motifs (vertical ladders of images, colored dots obscuring faces, the following of eyes and sight lines, the rebus like quality of constructed juxtapositions), their main innovation is the destruction of the idea that there is any right place to stand to see them. No longer is the viewer asked to stand square in front of an image hung 57 inches from the floor, with the remainder of the works in the show hung in a toilet bowl ring around the gallery. In fact, that whole behavior is impossible with these works, as Baldessari has enlarged the scale of the images to such an extent that standing too close makes them impossible to take in. He has also hung the images in unlikely locations: near the floor, up high bumping the ceiling, in the nooks and crannies of the space rather than always on the broad central walls. The effect is one of space set free, of photographs in complex dialogue with one another in a single room installation form, where the head spinning whole trumps the significance of any of the individual parts. There is no longer one single dominant viewpoint, and instead the viewer is subjected to a shifting set of sculptural perspectives, connections, and spatial relationships as he/she moves through the gallery.

In the best of these works, there is the sense that the photographs are talking with each other, physically oriented by Baldessari to face one another and interact. Whether its the conversation of a dwarf and a rhino, a giraffe and a man with a telescope both looking at (and silently commenting on) the same ladder of images, or desert wagon trains and arctic mush sleds both following baby polar bears, it's as if the pictures don't need a viewer; they're connecting all on their own. With these works and others from this period, Baldessari freed photography from the spatial constraints of the standard frame and opened up the idea of more complex installations of carefully sequenced imagery. Not long after these pieces, Baldessari started to build up the works into three dimensions, adding jutting space and thickness to his spatial repertoire.

More generally, the innovations that Baldessari introduced with these installations are lastingly fresh, and in many ways, not enough contemporary photographers have internalized the radical ideas embodied in them. Perhaps the new challenges and opportunities offered by installations of digital imagery will rekindle an interest and appreciation for these smartly original constructions, as there are still plenty of photographic lessons to be learned from the way these artworks have been imagined.
Collector's POV: The photographic installations in this show are priced between $1000000 and $1300000. Baldessari's work has become more consistently available in the secondary markets for Contemporary Art in recent years. Prices in the past decade for his photo-based pieces have ranged from roughly $10000 to nearly $1 million, with most of the larger multi-part works made since the 1980s routinely fetching six figures. Some of Baldessari's paintings have run even higher, up to $4.4 million in 2007.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Catalog raisonné site (here)
Through August 23rd
24 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book: Melanie Bonajo, Furniture Bondage

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2009 by Kodoji Press (here). Softcover, 52 pages, with 17 color and 8 black and white images. The book also includes a list of model's names and a short text by the artist. (Spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: For the past several months, a vision of contemporary photography as a series of interlocked Venn diagrams has been percolating around in my head. The gist of this thinking is that to a greater and greater degree, we are seeing overlap between previously separate artistic mediums, creating intersections zones where multiple media are mixing in unexpected ways, all of which is then upended by the underlying digital revolution which affects nearly everything. While there is certainly some slower step evolution taking place inside the formal boundaries of the contemporary photography bubble (most of it driven by the ongoing absorption of digital thinking and tools), much of the most drastic artistic mutation that is twisting the medium is taking place in these nether edges, where the rules are looser and the traditions less solidified. To my eye, these radical combination areas are where much of the most creative action is taking place, and where we ought to be paying attention if we want to see where the medium is really going.
Melanie Bonajo's Furniture Bondage series is just the kind of hybrid work I am interested in thinking more about. It brings together photography, sculpture, and performance in almost equal parts, the result being something a little of each but altogether new. Her photographs are images of staged constructions, where anonymous nude female models are tied up and otherwise bound and burdened with a dizzying array of mundane household objects. My first reaction to the works was that they were a little like the precariously balanced found object sculptures of Fischli & Weiss, but with the scaffolding of a human body added to the complex physics equation. With faces turned away or hidden by hair, the bodies become malleable objects, jammed into the space made by a desk chair, tied up with a phone cord, folded into an aluminum ladder, or bent into a wooden shelf unit. They act like center of gravity towers that hold the sculptures together, with any number of additional objects added on or perched on top. In this sense, the bodies are remarkably mute and inert, just one more limp sculptural object in a gathering of textures, colors, and jutting lines.
But if we step back and see these assemblages as performances, an entirely different reading of the works can take place. The female subjects are wrapped up and trapped by their possessions (the bondage motif), literally carrying the heavy load of their stuff. There is an innate physicality to what's going on, a bearing of weight and a contorting of bodies. Without much imagination, these images can be easily connected to a long line of body-based performance artists, both those who explored the limits of the flesh and those who had a more direct feminist angle, the suffocating cleaning products, kitchen utensils, and laundry racks offering biting commentary on traditional gender roles.
And depending on our vantage point, we might simply characterize these works as straightforward photographic nudes, albeit with a conceptual feel. The material objects and additional items surround the sitters like a still life, a mountain of daily clutter giving context and implied narrative to the elegance of the nude form. The photographs might feel equally at home with the witty early 1970s conceptual experiments of William Wegman or Robert Cumming or at the end of a comprehensive nude retrospective, in visual dialogue with a Dada nude from Man Ray, a bondage nude from Araki, and an interrupted windowsill and coffee table nude from Friedlander.
I like the back and forth instability of this mixed media approach, the alchemy of borrowing from various aesthetic tool boxes. It allows for multiple readings of the imagery and multiple placements within different cultural and artistic frameworks, all with a freshness that only comes from deliberately coloring outside the lines. If we're looking for the next set of photographic disruptions, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that they will come not from within, but from the external friction zones, where chaotic idea recombination like Melanie Bonajo's is the norm.

Collector’s POV: Melanie Bonajo is represented by PPOW Gallery in New York (here), where this body of work was shown in 2009. Bonajo's work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Interview: I Heart Photograph, 2008 (here)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ansel Adams: The Politics of Contemplation @ MoMA PS1

JTF (just the facts): A total of 50 black and white photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in a series of three connected rooms. All of the works are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between 1932 and 1968. The show is part of the larger EXPO 1: New York show which fills the museum. Other photographers included in the larger exhibit include Matthew Barney, Agnes Denes, Mitch Epstein, João Maria Gusmão, Taiyo Kimura, Zoe Leonard, and Mikhael Subotzky. The Adams micro show was organized by Roxana Marcoci, Klaus Biesenbach, and Lucy Gallun. (Installation shots at right, courtesy MoMA PS1. Images taken by Matthew Septimus.)

Comments/Context: Roughly a decade ago, the Ansel Adams at 100 show blanketed the nation, making stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York (along with a few foreign venues as well), and basically set the permanent standard for Adams scholarship. It was a comprehensive, chronological, and exhaustively researched retrospective, with plenty of surprises and treasures. I particularly remember seeing multiple prints of the same iconic images from different decades, showing how Adams' printing style had evolved over time. With this show as a singular example but just one of many great Adams exhibits over the years, it's hard to imagine that there is anything more to say about Adams that hasn't already been said better by someone else previously. And yet, the curators of this small show stepped up to that challenge and tried something radical, their approach bringing an entirely fresh perspective to Adams and his work.

The larger EXPO 1: New York exhibit of which this show is just one module takes on a variety of contemporary environmental and ecological issues and explores how artists are addressing these issues in their work. Adams' passion for environmental preservation and his involvement in the Sierra Club and other organizations is now old hat, so his inclusion in this survey is at first glance an odd and awkward choice; he's not exactly a current voice on climate change or global warming. The interest here comes not from a tired rehashing of his greatest hits, but from an unexpected conceptual what if exercise as posed by the curators. What if we sliced through Adams' prolific career and pulled out specific subjects he returned to again and again? And what if we filtered his whole aesthetic through the mind of the Bechers, paring him back to a documentary exploration of changing natural forms and landscapes? The result is Adams turned into a hard core detail tracker, a conceptual series maker and systematic watcher, and I have to say, it's a fascinating transformation.

This selection of photographs proves that Adams returned again and again to the same subjects, often placing his camera in nearly the very same spot year after year, taking basically the same picture from the same vantage point, the details and atmospheric moods changing through the seasons. Half Dome is alternately decorated with cottonwoods, thunderclouds, and white billowy clouds, while El Capitan is seen at sunrise, in shadow, amid misty winter haze, and set off by the silhouette of a winter tree. It's almost as if he was intent of making typologies, capturing these landscapes in every potential state. The plume of Old Faithful in Yellowstone runs the entire spectrum from white to black (with several intermediate grey steps), while various waterfalls are framed with deadpan clarity, their differences of angle and splash captured with the same precision as a series of Becher water towers. Moons, cliffs, rivers, aspens, firs in snow, every one becomes a set of subject matter motifs, a fugue of theme and variation. Adams' famous surf sequence seems perfectly matched to this way of thinking, a series of images of the same set up, the natural ebb and flow of the white bubbly waves providing the elements of chance and change.

So while nearly all of these pictures will be familiar to most, the way they are presented in this show turns the bombastic natural drama of Adams into just one aspect of a broader and more structured vision. Each image is no longer a virtuoso stand alone performance exactly, but a part of a larger whole, a variant of the underlying reality, or in musical terms, a different way to play the natural score. The hanging points to discipline and organization in his thinking, to his technical prowess channeled into an equally formal way of approaching the land. In a certain way, it makes Adams look much more boldly contemporary than we normally give him credit for. That's an entirely out-of-the-box way to see Adams, and proof positive of some smart curatorial thinking.

Collector's POV: Since this is a museum show, there are, of course, no posted prices. Adams' work is ubiquitous at auction, with dozens of prints and portfolios coming up for sale every season. Given large edition sizes, some of the prints are still very affordable (finding buyers for a few thousand dollars) while large vintage images of iconic works routinely stretch well into six figures (a few as high as $600-700K).

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

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: Daily Beast (here), NY Times (here), Village Voice (here), Haber's Art Reviews (here)

Ansel Adams: The Politics of Contemplation
(part of EXPO 1: New York)
Through September 2nd

22-25 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book: Daido Moriyama: Sunflower

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2011 by Match and Company (here). Hardcover, 88 pages, with 64 black and white images. The photographs included were taken between 1965 and 2009. There are no essays or texts. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Daido Moriyama's photographs of flowers aren't like most floral pictures. They aren't intricate botanical specimens, up-close geometries, or bright blossoms captured at the peak of their freshness and beauty. Moriyama's flowers are much darker and edgier, turning floral innocence into something alternately sultry, menacing, decaying or decidedly urban. This book brings together a broad sample of Moriyama's flowers, taken over four prolific decades, offering a subject matter-based view into his singular aesthetic.

This edit applies perhaps the loosest possible definition of "floral" to the photographs that have been included here. While there are a handful of single images of sunflowers, roses, hydrangeas, tulips, and the like, as well as some wider shots of fields and cherry trees, for the most part, Moriyama has avoided straight-on floral portraits. Instead, his flowers are found in the flow of daily life, in bursting bouquets wrapped in plastic and tin foil, reflected in shop windows, and discarded in dingy gutters and alleys. They are often seen in flash lit glare, looming out of the surrounding darkness with out of place, tactile seductiveness.

Moriyama's restless eye for the contrast between flowers and their surroundings extends in all directions, from printed floral clothing and tawdry motel furnishings to funeral wreaths and elaborate tattoos. Patterned blouses and skirts, swimsuits and shoulder bags all add a pop of flower power to an otherwise shadowy world, while bedspreads, curtains, and worn carpet with floral prints add a touch of faded energy to empty rooms. Hints of floral motifs show up in even more subtle and unexpected places in Moriyama's world, in lace lingerie and underwear and on ironwork benches and shop awnings. Even fireworks, dancefloor confetti, and nighttime snowflakes become vaguely floral when seen from the right angle.

The best of Moriyama's flowers have a lush eroticism that feeds on his dark palette; whether literal or figurative, they have a lurking sense of knowing danger or spent beauty. Even the cheapest and ugliest of his flowers have some seedy come hither attraction, trading pure elegance for something a little grittier.

Collector’s POV: Daido Moriyama has been a prolific book maker, and the specialized secondary markets and photobook auctions are routinely stocked with vintage rarities for deep pocketed collectors. Morimaya's photographs have also become more widely available at auction in recent years, with print prices generally ranging from $2000 and $40000.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Features/Reviews: Japan Exposures (here)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Checklist: 7/18/13

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


TWO STARS: William Eggleston: Met: July 28: review

ONE STAR: Oliver Gagliani: Gitterman: August 9: review
THREE STARS: Bill Brandt: MoMA: August 12: review
ONE STAR: XL: MoMA: January 6: review


ONE STAR: Laurel Nakadate: Leslie Tonkonow: July 26: review
TWO STARS: Takuma Nakahira: Yossi Milo: July 26: review
ONE STAR: Under My Skin: Flowers: July 27: review
ONE STAR: Rebecca Norris Webb: Ricco Maresca: August 17: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

ONE STAR: Jimmy DeSana: Salon 94 Bowery: August 9: review

Elsewhere Nearby

ONE STAR: LaToya Ruby Frazier: Brooklyn Museum: August 11: review

Forward Auction Calendar
New auctions added this week in red.
(Sale Date: Sale Title: Auction House: link to catalog)

No previews at this time.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography @MoMA

JTF (just the facts): A group show of the work of 14 photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung in a series of 4 divided rooms on the 3rd floor of the museum. All of the works are recent acquisitions. (Installation shots at right.)
The following photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of works on view and image details in parentheses:
  • Yto Barrada (1 set of 4 chromogenic color prints, 2004)
  • Liz Deschenes (1 chromogenic color print, 2009)
  • Robert Frank (7 gelatin silver prints, 1976-1998)
  • Paul Graham (21 pigmented inkjet prints, 1981-1982/2011)
  • Birgit Jürgenssen (1 gelatin silver print with applied ink, 1972, 1 gelatin silver print, 1976)
  • Jürgen Klauke (1 set of 4 gelatin silver prints, 1974-1975)
  • Běla Kolářová (4 gelatin silver prints, 1962-1963)
  • Lynn Hershman Leeson (3 gelatin silver print, 1974-1978, 1 16mm film, 1978, 5 chromogenic color prints, 1976-1978/2003, 1 silver dye bleach print, 1976, 4 chromogenic color prints, 1975-1976, 1 chromogenic color print, 1977/1999, 1 modacrylic fiber wig, 1 pigmented inkjet print, 1978, 1 offset lithograph, 1974, 1 pigmented inkjet print, 1975/2003)
  • Dora Mauer (1 set of 24 gelatin silver prints and graphite on paper, 1972, 1 set of 28 gelatin silver prints and graphite on paper with 1 map, 1979)
  • Oscar Muñoz (1 set of 12 chromogenic color prints, 2007/2012)
  • Mariah Robertson (1 chromogenic color print, 2012)
  • Alan Sekkula (18 dye transfer prints and 7 text panels, 1988-1995)
  • Stephen Shore (1 set of 32 gelatin silver prints, 1969/2013, 16 chromogenic prints, 1972-1979/2013, 4 chromogenic prints, 2012)
  • VALIE EXPORT (3 gelatin silver prints, 1968/2011, 1 gelatin silver print, 1968, 1 set of 40 gelatin silver prints with pencil and pen on paper, 1968/1973, 1 gelatin silver print with package of cigarettes, 1970/2005, 4 gelatin silver prints, 1972)
Additional works by Taryn Simon, Phil Collins, Stan Douglas, Leslie Hewitt, and Hank Willis Thomas will be added to the exhibit on August 23rd.

Comments/Context: The everyday trade-offs that are faced by museum accession committees and curators are often much more complicated and multi-faceted than outsiders might imagine. Start with a fixed budget (and one that it is inevitably smaller than might be desired) and an existing permanent collection with its own particular strengths and weaknesses, and add to that mix a shifting set of priorities, personalities, and upcoming shows. Should precious acquisition dollars be spent on new and emerging work that is representative of the current trends, or should gaping holes in the collection be filled with key masterworks? And which gaps in the collection are most pressing (assuming a perfect "solution" could be found at the right price)? If we can ascribe intention to the acquisitions process (and not just the random arrival of donations and gifts), those works a museum acquires in any given period can tell us something about how these choices are being made.

This show brings together a selection of MoMA's recent photography acquisitions and mostly finds the museum shoring up its foundations and deepening its commitment to certain thematic ideas. It's clear that Paul Graham, Stephen Shore, and Robert Frank are critical photographers in the history of the medium, so it's not surprising to see the museum filling in their holdings of these three masters; perhaps what is more unexpected is that this work wasn't already in the collection. New acquisitions include a selection of prints (unfortunately recent) from Paul Graham's early 1980s color classic A1: The Great North Road, a set of Robert Frank's darker, more psychologically raw later multi-image works (1970s-1990s), and a sampler of Stephen Shore's work, from modern prints from American Surfaces and Uncommon Places to an early conceptual piece and some recent images from Ukraine.

Thematically, the intersecting circles of feminism, gender studies, performance, and female photographers continue to get a strong push from the museum, often with a European bent. Běla Kolářová's circular radiograms from the early 1960s are paired with Dora Mauer's 1970s conceptual studies in the opening gallery, and a few rooms later, VALIE EXPORT, Lynn Hershman Leeson and Birgit Jürgenssen are collected in more breadth and depth. It's undeniably clear that the museum is interested in the evolving aesthetic and conceptual ideas in this strain of photography, and in using these and other artists as a platform for more current discussions of female identity.

The last gallery in the current show (another room will be added in August when the Brandt show comes down) is a grab bag of more recent work, from Alan Sekkula's comprehensive documentation of global port cities and seafaring industries to Liz Deschenes' vibrating field of abstract dots. Both Mariah Robertson's looping expressionistic roll of photograms and the systematically woven portraits of Oscar Muñoz seem like strong additions to the collection. That said, I look forward to the inclusion of the final room later in the summer, as the current configuration seems woefully incomplete in terms of exciting new photography.

All in, this is a summer group show without a theme, a disconnected but high quality gathering of photographs that provide a trail of bread crumbs for those interested in charting the museum's point of view. As always, the new acquisitions look like a delicate balance of reinforcing the core strengths of the collection, following the interests of the curators, and attempting to capture the best of what's new.
Collector's POV: Since this is a museum exhibition, there are, of course, no posted prices for the works on view. As such, we'll pass on the normal discussion of pricing trends and secondary market history that would usually appear here.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: Opening Ceremony (here)

XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography
Through January 6
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019