Friday, July 31, 2009

Book: James Welling, New Abstractions

JTF (just the facts): Published in 1999 by the Sprengel Museum Hannover (here), in conjunction with the DG Bank-Förderpreis Fotografie 1999 exhibit. 52 pages with 16 black and white images. Includes an essay by Alain Cueff in English, French and German. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: Given the recent surge of press around the Pictures Generation show at the Met (our review here), James Welling is once again back in the spotlight. This thin catalogue is, however, another of our recent finds at Printed Matter in Chelsea, and takes us back a decade or so, to the late 1990s, when Welling was experimenting with abstract photograms.

Welling's process for making these images is worth a quick review. He began by taking strips of cardboard/paper and placing them in intersecting and overlapping patterns on light sensitive paper, thereby creating a white on black image after developing. He then digitally scanned the images, reversed them, and created negative prints that were black on white.
My first reaction to these images were that they were a riff on Modernism, an echo of the patterns of fire escape shadows, architectural skyscraper skeletons and the Third Avenue El from 1920s New York, only cleaned up and made crisp in a geometric, graphic design mode. (Untitled #9, 1998, at right, via artnet.)
After looking at them a while, their representation of anything in particular fell away (particularly since the dark areas have no sense of depth or volume), and I was left with sharp edged angles and stark contrasts. Of course, there are obvious relationships to the history of photograms (Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy et al), but in many ways, these images seem to function more like Franz Kline Abstract Expressionist paintings, the thick lines anchoring the pictures and shaping the space.
To our eyes, there is an undercurrent of simple art school cleverness here, but overall, these are compelling and visually exciting abstractions that challenge the edges of what we define as photography.

Collector’s POV: James Welling is represented by David Zwirner in New York (here) and Regen Projects in Los Angeles (here). Welling's photographs have come up at auction from time to time over the past few years, generally in the $2000 to $10000 price range. For our collection, one of his flowers would be the obvious best fit, although a print from this series of abstractions would also make a compelling foil to our city scenes from the 1920s.

Transit Hub:
  • Welling's UCLA faculty page (here)
  • Surface Histories, Art in America, 2001 (here)
  • BOMB magazine interview, 2004 (here)
  • Flowers (here)
  • Whitney Biennial 2008 (here)
  • Upcoming event at MoMA in October (here)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Gallery Show Review is an Endangered Species

For those of you who read from far off locales or in different languages, please accept my apologies for a moment of myopic, New York-centric, English language-only commentary. This afternoon’s post touches on a topic of local interest, and perhaps larger and longer term international consequence: the slow demise of the standard gallery show review (photography shows in specific in this case) in nearly all forms of our media.

As background, let’s step back and take a quick high level survey of how the major NY media outlets take on gallery shows of photography:

New York Times: The big dog in this fight given its large circulation has four distinguished reporters who cover the arts, and who enter the fray of photography from time to time: Roberta Smith, Holland Cotter, Karen Rosenberg and Ken Johnson. These four split up the tasks of writing the feature articles, summaries and blurbs for museum and gallery shows of all kinds, in addition to wider gauged, more theoretical pieces about all facets of the arts. The reality is that photography is just one of many disciplines to be covered by this team, and as result, they tend to cherry pick the best (and often largest) shows to cover. In an average month, this might mean a handful of different shows get coverage, so the Times is a great resource for those who want the top level summary, especially since most of their writing is in long form articles, with deep background and thorough analysis. In general, their collective work is superlative, but by definition, they miss (or fail to report on) a lot of what’s going on.

New Yorker: I’ve come to believe that Vince Aletti is the hardest working photography writer in the city. Every week, he publishes at least a couple if not 4 or 5 fresh reviews of gallery and museum shows focused on photography (the New Yorker tends not to rerun the same blurbs week after week, which most of the other outlets regularly do). In general, these are well written, concise blurbs of 3 or 4 sentences; once a month perhaps, he writes a longer sidebar piece that might be 3 or 4 paragraphs and has more opportunity for a fuller discourse. Given my offhand and nonscientific perusal of gallery guest books, he’s often already seen the show we’re viewing, so he’s clearly also doing a good job of staying on top of what’s current and getting to shows soon after they open. But even Vince can’t be everywhere, so many, many shows go without his stamp of approval. (By the way, once in a while, Aletti will thoroughly dismantle a bad show or weak artist in one of his short blurbs, something that very few others will do (including ourselves) and that I regard with high esteem.)

New York magazine: While Jerry Saltz is a terrific art critic, like the team at the NYTimes, he is covering the whole waterfront of the arts, and not surprisingly photography tends to get short shrift. Most of the time, gallery reviews are limited to one or two sentences, stuffed in the listings in the back, with plus or minus half a dozen of these tiny reviews in any one issue, often repeated week to week. A few times a year at most, a larger, fully fleshed out photography article is written, almost certainly about a museum blockbuster or top tier gallery standout.

Village Voice, Bloomberg, TimeOut, Wall Street Journal and others: These outlets tend to treat photography as a feature story (often written by a freelancer rather than a staff writer it seems), covering the activities of the community from time to time as the situation warrants (big museum show etc.). While they are commenting on the world of photography periodically (which is good), it is not particularly consistent coverage, and certainly doesn’t provide a comprehensive view of what’s going on.

That’s really it, as far as I can tell, for the New York centric media. As a foil, let’s take a quick review of the arts centric media (which runs in parallel) and their efforts to report on gallery shows of photography:

Broad art magazines (Artforum, Art in America etc.): Both Artforum and Art in America do an excellent job of writing solid reviews of gallery shows, often in much more erudite language than the local New York media. The problem is of course that they are covering all of the contemporary art world, in every region and locale, and photography is just a slice of that pie. As such, while there might be half a dozen longer articles and 50 or more three paragraph gallery reviews in any given magazine, there are only likely a few focused on photography and perhaps only one or two in New York (in the case of the longer articles, the norm is none). The writing and scholarship in both magazines is always strong, but their coverage of the world of photography (both vintage and contemporary) paints an uneven picture of the local reality.

Fine art photography magazines (Aperture, Blind Spot, B&W, etc.): In general, it seems that printed photography magazines have moved away from the standard gallery show review, likely because as monthlies, the information lead time creates reviews that are a bit stale. Aperture does do a review or two in each quarterly magazine, but nearly all of these are museum shows that have longer runs. Blind Spot does no reviews at all, since it’s focused on new fresh work. B&W does a few each month, nearly always museums. So while there’s a lot to be gained by reading these and other magazines in a broad sense, their reporting on what’s happening in the galleries is thin at best.

Unless I’m missing something important, that’s basically it in terms of reviews of gallery shows of photography in New York, as seen through the world of printed media. In total, if you read them all (which we do), you’ll get a summary decent picture of the world of photography, but you’ll sure miss a lot of the exciting details that are hiding just underneath the surface.

All of this is background to a larger question that has been irritating me for quite some time. Imagine you are a gallery owner, with an exciting new show of photography now on view. You’ve listed your show in all kinds of arts listing services and sent your announcement card/email to your database list, so the word is most definitely out about the exhibit. If you hit the jackpot, the NY Times will review your show, and perhaps you’ll get an Artforum pick to go with it (the dream double). More likely, you’re banking on a solid blurb from Vince Aletti (which you will dutifully copy and send out to your client list and post on your website), and hoping for some smattering of other press from the other New York outlets.

But let’s say for a moment that Vince doesn’t come by for whatever reason (or God forbid, he slices and dices your show) and the rest of the fair weather features press doesn’t show up either. Then what? The unfortunate reality is this exact situation that occurs for better than half of the photography shows that occur in New York. The big nothing.

Enter the well meaning collectors from DLK COLLECTION, writing on gallery shows for fun. In the best sense of the word, we are amateurs: we are passionate, non-professionals. We don’t copy edit or fact check our posts, we don’t let them sit for a few days so we can wordsmith them to sublime perfection: in fact, we write nearly every post in one continuous draft, without much in the way of background work. And while we strive to be current, write concisely, and apply some level of critical thinking to each and every review, we do not confuse ourselves with real art critics who do this job for a living.

So far this year, we have reviewed 96 photography shows on this site (Vince Aletti certainly has us beat, but I doubt there are any others who have covered as much photography as we have). And here’s the scary thing: in many cases, our amateur review is the only review the gallery show in question received. Even scarier: do a Google search for some of the photographers mentioned, and our review comes up on the first page, again as the only critical commentary on the work. What the hell is going on here?

Now imagine you are the gallery owner we profiled before, and your only reviews are from DLK COLLECTION and others in the blogosphere (Conscientious and Fugitive Vision among others are doing focused photography gallery reviews from time to time as well). Do you disregard these reviews as noise? Do you embrace them as actual “press” and use their output as you would a review from the New Yorker? Do you abandon the old ways and go for a social networking PR strategy instead (Facebook it), especially if you are cultivating a younger collector base?

This post is not the place for answers to these mind boggling questions; I’m still scratching my head from the emails I get that are addressed to “editor”. But the erosion of print media, and in particular, the waning coverage of everyday run of the mill gallery shows, is going to continue to cause gallery owners to rethink how they build word of mouth for their artists, how they find new accepted sources of reference-able credibility to ease the concerns of uncertain collectors, and how they more broadly generate some buzz.

From our standpoint, the situation is certainly sobering. We are now much more aware that a backhanded, slipshod review can be a potential problem for an artist/gallery and that we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard than just cranking something out. Somehow, we stepped into a void (and one that seems to be getting bigger regretfully), and we need to rise to the challenge before us. This is not just for us, but for all of you reading and writing out there. Thoughtful, critical thinking/writing about photography is in short supply. So instead of writing “this is a cool show, check it out” and adding a link on your blog, take the time to take it a level deeper, to engage in some additional discourse. If the coverage of photography (and gallery shows more specifically) by the mainstream press is going to slowly wither away, we as a community need to step into the breach and start writing. Most of all, we owe it to the artists/photographers, who deserve more from this community than deafening silence.

The Summer Viewing List

As summer kicks into full swing, most of us will be taking some time off at some point for a few moments of rest and relaxation. In the event your travels take you somewhere exciting for your vacation and you're looking for your fix of photography, we proudly offer you our unofficial, incomplete and clearly biased Summer Viewing List, detailing many museum exhibits and gallery shows around the world (in no particular order) that we would make a point to see if we found ourselves in the right place at the right time.

Surely, there are plenty more photography shows on view wherever you might go than we've chosen for this edited list, and I'm certain we will now receive a flood of additional announcements, tips, and flames for those we have missed or omitted. So we'll be happy to update the list if something great comes out of the woodwork, but hopefully this collection should give you somewhere to start.

United States

Masterworks of American Photography: Moments in Time @Amon Carter Museum (here), Fort Worth, through January 3

Ways of Seeing: The Photography of Ishimoto Yasuhiro @Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (here), through September 13

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Photographs @Philadelphia Museum of Art (here), Philadelphia, through August 23

Tom Arndt's Minnesota @Minneapolis Institute of Arts (here), Minneapolis, through August 23

Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries @Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (here), through November 2

For My Best Beloved Sister Mia: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron @Portland Museum of Art (here), through September 7

Photography on Display: Modern Treasures @Art Institute of Chicago (here), through September 13

Form and Movement: Photographs by Philip Trager @National Building Museum (here), Washington D.C., through January 3

Directions: Walead Beshty: Legibility on Color Backgrounds @Hirshorn Museum (here), Washington, D.C., through September 13

Jaromir Funke and the Amateur Avant-Garde @National Gallery of Art (here), Washington, D.C., through August 9

Concrete Abstractions: A Gift of Photographs by Aaron Siskind from Joe d’Angerio, Nancy Foy and Family @California Museum of Photography (here), Riverside, through August 29

Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans" @SFMOMA (here), San Francisco, through August 23

Richard Avedon, Photographs 1946-2004 @SFMOMA (here), San Francisco, through November 29

Nicholas Nixon, Self & City @Fraenkel Gallery (here), San Francisco, through August 15

Paul Outerbridge: Command Performance @Getty Center (here), Los Angeles, through August 8

Vera Lutter @Gagosian Gallery (here), Beverly Hills, through September 12

Brett Weston: Out of the Shadow @Santa Barbara Museum of Art (here), through August 16

At the Crossroads of American Photography: Callahan, Siskind, Sommer @Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (here), Scottsdale, through August 9

Richard Misrach: On the Beach @High Museum of Art (here), Atlanta, through August 23


Happy Birthday Bauhaus!/Umbo 1952 @Galerie Kicken Berlin (here), through December 19

Nude Visions: 150 Years of Body Images in Photography @Stadtmuseum Munich (here), through September 13

Women @Galerie Priska Pasquer (here), Cologne, through September 1

Hans van der Meer, Work & Play @Nederlands Fotomuseum (here), Rotterdam, through August 23

Guy Tillim, Avenue Patrice Lumumba @FOAM (here), Amsterdam, through August 30

Regeneration - 50 Photographers of Tomorrow @PREUS Museum (here), Horten, through August 30

Parrworld: The Collection of Martin Parr @Jeu De Paume (here), Paris, through September 27

Edward Burtynsky, Australian Minescapes @Australian Centre for Photography (here), Sydney, through August 22

Walid Raad, The Atlas Group (1989-2004) @Museum Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (here), Madrid, through August 31

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book: Landscape Shibata Toshio

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2008 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and Ryoko Yomiuri Publications, in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name. 84 pages, with 74 images. Includes essays by Iizawa Kotaro and Fujimura Satomi, selected exhibitions and bibliography, and a list of public collections. (Cover shot at right, via Japan Exposures.)

Comments/Context: Not to be confused with his two monographs with similar names published by Nazareli Press (linked below), this volume is an exhibition catalogue of Japanese photographer Toshio Shibata's 2008 show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, collecting together a sample of his recent color work, as well as selections from several earlier black and white projects going back to the early 1980s. So while not quite a retrospective, it certainly is an excellent overview book for those who want to get a broad understanding of his photography.

Unlike the many Japanese artists who have celebrated the natural world and its spiritual qualities, Shibata has focused his attention on the man made structures that have been introduced into the landscape: roadside retaining walls and concrete barriers, webbing to catch falling rock, terraced dams and reinforced reservoir spillways. In many ways, he has adapted the ideas of the New Topographics photographers of the 1970s (Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, et al) for his own environment, challenging the established notions of what a Japanese landscape should look like in the process.

His works in black and white are full of vaguely organic but unidentifiable geometric forms, stripes and checkerboards, zig-zags and chevrons, draped over the undulating land like chain mail, often with tufts of greenery growing from between the cracks. Water also plays a large role in these pictures, either tumbling down the face of a dam in frothy waterfalls, or pooled in reservoirs and man made lakes. And yet these images look nothing like anything you've seen anywhere else; they seem to be unique civil engineering solutions devised for the problems of Japanese construction, now suddenly more visible, as opposed to being consciously overlooked. Shibata has cropped out both the sky and horizon, drawing our attention to the details of the concrete, posing questions about man's interaction with nature and about the traditional definitions of landscape beauty.

The recent large scale color images tackle this exact same terrain, almost as a rephotography project. Many of the same structures that we first saw as stark black and white contrasts are now softer, more real, in their neutral earth tones of tan, green and brown. The same underlying issues are of course at work here, but the integration of nature and the man altered landscape is more subtle, and arcs of color add an additional element of form to the compositions.

A final group of early night pictures from the 1980s round out the book. These too seem indebted to the New Topographics photographers, as Shibata has singled out roadside hotels and restaurants, toll booths and gas stations, centering on the flat horizontals of the architecture and road, lit by pinpricks of light in the enveloping darkness.

Overall, this volume is a solid introduction to the work of an important contemporary Japanese photographer.

Collector’s POV: Toshio Shibata is represented by Laurence Miller Gallery in New York (here), Gallery Luisotti in Santa Monica, CA, (here, on artnet) and Tepper Takayama Fine Arts in Boston (here). Shibata's work has very little auction history, so gallery retail is likely the best bet for collectors who wish to follow up. There are quite a few of Shibata's black and white concrete patterns that would fit well into our city/industrial genre; we just need to spend some time looking at a number of prints to find the one that matches our collection best.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist website (here)
  • Profile on Polaroid website (here)
  • Reclamation, 2006 @Laurence Miller Gallery (here)
  • Landscape and Landscape2 @Nazraeli Press website (here)

Book: Joachim Brohm, Areal

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2002 by Steidl (here). 265 pages, with 206 color images. Includes essays in English and German by Urs Stahel and Regina Bittner. The images in the book were taken between 1992 and 2002. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: In the past few decades, cities all over the world have worked to transform themselves, clearing away their old industrial infrastructure in favor of new business parks and planned communities designed for the knowledge economy. German photographer Joachim Brohm has been a careful witness to one of these slow moving redevelopment projects (on the periphery a German city), documenting the unspectacular evolution of the site across many years, through all its ugly intermediate stages.

While there are certainly plenty of stand out images in this volume, this body of work is better thought of as an extended essay, where the images work together to tell a multi-faceted layered narrative. The chronological sequencing of the pictures leads to a meditative flow of time, where the site is slowly redefined, from its original function, through demolition and clearing, to the first stages of its eventual reconstruction. Each image is a small piece of the larger puzzle, a captured fragment of what happened along the way. There is no obvious beginning or end to this project, no ground breaking or champagne ribbon cutting; instead, the process seems to drag on (the seasons pass again and again), with inertia as the driving force, and the completion of small tasks as the activity. Progress is slowly made, and at the end, the buildings look mostly completed, although most are still covered by plastic sheeting or scaffolding, the small details still unfinished.
Brohm's images are a mixture of bird's eye views (presumably from nearby buildings) and deadpan frontal shots at ground level; his subjects are trucks and back lots, sheds and temporary structures, discarded items and construction rubble, an unspecific view of a generic process that could be happening almost anywhere (and is). He comes back to the same locations time and again, the same diamond shaped blue clock often hovering somewhere in the distance. His compositions are dense, often disorienting, with echoes of Lee Friedlander's all over chaos.

If you pick this book up and flip through it in a hurry, I think there is a good chance you'll miss the subtleties of Brohm's approach; it will look like a grab bag of snap shots from the faceless construction project just down the road from where you live. Given some time however, the complexities of the individual images will start to reveal themselves and the story he's telling will resonate much more profoundly. The more I look at this book, the more impressed I am with its contents.

Collector’s POV: Joachim Brohm is represented by Gallery Luisotti in Santa Monica, CA (here, on artnet) and Galerie Michael Wiesehöfer in Cologne (here). Brohm's work has recently become more available in the secondary markets, particularly at Van Ham. Images from Areal are Fuji Crystal archive prints made in 2002, in editions of 11; prices have generally been under $2500. It appears that prints from other projects were made in editions of 8 or 12; they too have sold in this affordable range.

Transit Hub:

  • Artforum feature, 1993, via American Suburb X (here)
  • Ruhr on We English (here)
  • Ohio at Museum for Contemporary Art Leipzig, 2008 (here)
  • Fotomuseum Winterthur collection (here)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women @Cheim & Read

JTF (just the facts): A total of 41 works in a variety of media, variously framed and matted and hung in the 4 main rooms of the gallery, with additional images in the entry and the back hallway. 18 of these works are photographs; the rest are paintings, sculpture, collage and other media. The images range from 1866 to 2009, with most being made in the last two decades. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers are included in the exhibit, with the number of images on display in parentheses:

Berenice Abbott (1)
Marina Abramovic (1)
Diane Arbus (1)
Julia Margaret Cameron (1)
Rineke Dijkstra (2)
Nan Goldin (1)
Katy Grannan (1)
Jenny Holzer (1 group of 14 images)
Roni Horn (1 group of 5 images)
Zoe Leonard (1 diptych)
Sally Mann (1)
Marilyn Minter (1)
Shirin Neshat (1)
Catherine Opie (1)
Cindy Sherman (1)
Hellen van Meene (1)
Francesca Woodman (1)

Additional artists in the show include (with the number of works on display in parentheses):

Ghada Amer (1 painting)
Vanessa Beecroft (1 sculpture)
Lynda Benglis (1 video)
Louise Bourgeois (1 sculpture)
Kathe Burkhart (1 painting)
Victoria Civera (1 painting)
Marlene Dumas (1 painting)
Anh Duong (1 painting)
Judith Eisler (1 painting)
Tracey Emin (1 sculpture)
Ellen Gallagher (1 collage)
Chantal Joffe (1 painting)
Deborah Kass (1 painting)
Maria Lassnig (1 painting)
Sarah Lucas (1 sculpture)
Joan Mitchell (1 painting)
Alice Neel (1 painting)
Collier Schorr (1 collage)
Joan Semmel (1 painting)
Mickalene Thomas (1 painting)
Hannah van Bart (1 painting)
Kara Walker (1 paper cutout)
Lisa Yuskavage (1 painting)
Comments/Context: Given the way our collection is built (subject matter driven themes), we have often thought about whether there are inherent differences between the way male and female photographers have approached certain subjects. Can we say definitively that Abbott and Bourke-White approached abstract skyscrapers differently than Steichen and Stieglitz? Or that Atkins and Cunningham looked at flowers differently than Fox Talbot, Blossfeldt and Mapplethorpe? For these two subjects, while there is of course plenty of variation, we cannot detect a strong and defensible causal relationship with gender. For the female nude however, this is not the case. Nudes by Weston or Brandt are altogether different in feeling than those of Bernhard or Cunningham, and in our view, these dissimilarities are largely a result of the sex/viewpoint of the artist.

Which brings us to the fine group show now on at Cheim & Read. While the press release for this show seems to go out of its way to defend the concept of the female gaze (as though it were somehow up for debate), to our eyes, there are identifiable and meaningful differences between the work of male and female artists working in both portraiture and the nude (and likely other subjects as well). This exhibit gathers together a wide variety of art works made by female artists depicting female subjects, and makes a strong case for real contrasts with the male perspective that dominates our culture.

The photography included here (and it is in the minority overall) is in the "one from each" mode, selecting a single work from a broad range of female photographers across the ages. What comes through in seeing this spectrum is that (not surprisingly) the ability of the photographer to gain the comfort/trust of the subject drives the making of powerful images. While trust building is not a uniquely female trait, I can easily agree that for these particular subjects (female portrait sitters that is), the presence of a female photographer undeniably made the image making more productive, and allowed the subjects to look outward with more confidence and authenticity. Shirin Neshat's bored bride, Catherine Opie's surfer, Hellen van Meene's girl behind a thin curtain, and Sally Mann's daughter on a divan just don't happen in the same way if a man is behind the camera. The presence of a man's gaze (however benevolent) would also have obviously impeded the images made by Katy Grannan, Francesca Woodman, and Nan Goldin. Marina Abramovic and Jenny Holzer take the gazing yet another step, refracting and reflecting the male gaze with withering critiques from the female perspective.

Another aspect that I found of interest in this exhibit is how photography as a medium seems to self select its subjects. What I mean by this is that nearly all of the photographs in this show are straightforward portraits or documents of performances; by and large, they are character studies or conceptual pieces, and even the nudes are only mildly suggestive. In contrast, much of the painting and sculpture included in the show is much more graphic in its sensuality, albeit somewhat abstracted via the media being used. Does this contrast tell us something about how the women who made these artworks are using levels of "realism" to tell their stories, and how they make choices of medium to match their intended subjects?

In general, this group show delivers on providing thoughtful juxtapositions of unexpected works, all within the larger context of what the female gaze might signify. What I like most about this show is not just that it offered a well selected group of pictures to see, but that it reminded us of a conceptual framework that we could repurpose and reuse in the context of our own collecting activities.

Collector's POV: Cheim & Read has gone for the misdirection approach to pricing, with no transparent price list readily available at the reception desk. While I am normally not shy about asking prices, in this case, I didn't have the energy to endure the required conversation to get the data; the gallery was crowded, the receptionists were frosty, and it just seemed like far too much work. While the Zoe Leonard nudes would fit best into our collection, I found the Shirin Neshat bride the most memorable.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artforum July 2009 Critics' Picks (here)
  • TimeOut review (here)
Through September 19th

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

Monday, July 27, 2009

Glitz & Grime: Photographs of Times Square @Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 works: 23 photographs and 1 artist's book, variously framed and matted, and hung in the main gallery (primarily color) and the project room (primarily black and white). The images were taken between 1945 and the present. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists are included in the exhibit, with the number of images on display in parentheses:

Olivo Barbieri (1)
Lillian Bassman (1)
Rudy Burckhardt (1)
Ted Croner (1)
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (2)
Alfred Eisenstadt (1)
Mitch Epstein (1)
Elliot Erwitt (1)
Louis Faurer (1)
Robert Frank (1)
David Hilliard (1)
Paul Himmel (1)
Lisa Kereszi (1)
William Klein (1)
Jeff Liao (1)
Benn Mitchell (2)
Andrew Moore (1)
Lynn Saville (1)
Stephen Shore (1 book)
Louis Stettner (1)
Dennis Stock (1)
Brian Ulrich (1)

Comments/Context: Yancey Richardson's offering in the parade of New York themed summer group shows is a celebration of the quintessential New York landmark: Times Square. Images from different decades show a remarkably uneven history of waxing and waning commercial success: from the brightly lit theaters and shiny cars of the 1940s and 1950s, to the down at the heels shops and strip clubs of the 1970s and 1980s, to the cacophonous consumption explosion of recent years.

Most of the early black and white images use the reflections from rows of bright theater lights and the contrasts of light and dark to drive composition, many photographers opting for multiple images or shadowy abstracted views to catch the nighttime energy of the site. Mitch Epstein and Lisa Kerezsi chronicle the grittier in-between years: a boarded-up theater seen though a window with peeling paint, and an out of use neon sign, now dark and abandoned. Andrew Moore and Jeff Liao show the current state of Times Square: a chaotic brew of saturated color advertising, piled in flashing overlapping layers of shouting billboards. Brian Ulrich's slack jawed teen playing a video game seems the perfect response to this over-the-top stimuli.
Like most of the summer group shows in this series, this is light fare, with a broad mix of styles and approaches designed to appeal to a wide audience. Just like Times Square itself, there is plenty of vitality and sparkle in this show to entertain just about anyone for a short period of time.
One entirely unrelated side note: unless many of the galleries participating in these New York group shows have deeper secondary market inventories than I had imagined, there seems to be a lot of trading and borrowing going on between galleries in the background to put these thematic exhibits together (i.e. artists represented by one gallery showing up in the group show of another). While some amount of this back room exchange is always going on, perhaps this is a sign of increased collaboration and support between like minded galleries in these tougher economic times.
Collector's POV: The images in the show range in price from $2100 to $40000, with the Stephen Shore book at $500; in general, most of the prints are under $10000. For our particular collection, we liked Ted Croner's Times Square Montage, 1947, Paul Himmel's Times Square, 1950, and William Klein's Selwyn 42nd Street, New York, 1955.

Rating: * (1 star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Ted Croner obituary in the NY Times, 2005 (here)
  • Benn Mitchell artist site (here)
  • Jeff Liao artist site (here)
Glitz & Grime: Photographs of Times Square
Through August 28th

535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book: Robert Rauschenberg, Fotografie 1949-1985

JTF (just the facts): Published in 1999 by Galleria Lawrence Rubin, Milan. 44 pages, with 30 black and white images. Includes an essay by Yve-Alain Bois. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: In the past few years, we've run across photographs by the great American painter and printmaker Robert Rauschenberg from time to time in exhibits and shows of his work, but had never really seen enough of them side by side to draw any conclusions about his talents as a photographer. So when I recently came across this thin exhibition catalogue buried in the shelves at the Strand, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get better educated on his output with a camera.

If the contents of this volume are any guide to his overall approach to the medium of photography, Rauschenberg had alternating periods of intense interest and decades of inattention. The first period of activity came during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he was working at Black Mountain College (with Albers, Callahan, Siskind and others); his images from that time are square format experimental shots, with a hint of Surrealism. Thirty years pass with virtually no photographs to show, and then in the early 1980s, Rauschenberg picks up his camera (now 35mm) and begins to shoot again, this time in a more humanist, later Kertész type of mode, with a few exotic foreign locales thrown in for good measure.

With a little bit of imagination, it's possible to see Rauschenberg's interest in the juxtaposition of found imagery and the layering of overlapping forms in some of the later pictures. As it is however, while these are certainly well made photographs, I think most viewers would be hard pressed to identify these images as made by Rauschenberg without some help from a wall text or caption. Perhaps if he had devoted more consistent time and energy to his photography over the years, the work might have become more refined and representative of his larger artistic vision.

Collector’s POV: The photography of Robert Rauschenberg is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York (here). Only a handful of Rauschenberg's photographs have come up for auction in recent years; in general, the prints have been sold between $1500 and $10000. Some of the 1950s era images were reprinted in large editions (50) in the late 1970s, making them more available. My particular favorite from this catalogue was New York City, 1981, an image of a silhouetted dog waiting in a truck, with a brick wall and fire escape as backdrops.

Transit Hub:
  • NY Times obituary, 2008 (here)

Sexy and the City @Yossi Milo

JTF (just the facts): A total of 31 prints, most hung in a dense cluster on a single wall in the back room viewing area. 2 larger works are hung on adjacent walls in this same space. The images are a mix of black and white and color and are variously framed and matted. While most of the images were taken in the 1960s and 1970s, the dates range from 1945 to 2008. (Installation shot at right.)

The following photographers are included in the show, with the number of images on display in parentheses:

Merry Alpern (1)
Will Anderson (1)
Diane Arbus (1)
Alvin Baltrop (2)
Bruce Davidson (1)
Alfred Eisenstaedt (1)
Mitch Epstein (1)
Louis Faurer (1)
Leonard Freed (1)
Nan Goldin (1)
Gail Albert Halaban (1)
Charles Harbutt (1)
Lisa Kereszi (1)
André Kertész (2)
Arthur Leipzig (1)
Leon Levinstein (3)
Joel Meyerowitz (1)
Duane Michals (1)
Tod Papageorge (1)
Frank Paulin (1)
Anton Perich (1)
Charles Traub (1)
Arthur Tress (1)
Weegee (1)
Ryan Weideman (1)
Ruby Weidman (1)
Garry Winogrand (1)

Comments/Context: Yossi Milo's contribution to the parade of New York themed summer group shows is a sensual look at the people of the city, a small but tasty appetizer of kissing, dancing, parading, making out, and generally showing some skin. As a theme, it holds together effectively; well selected images from a wide variety of photographers and time periods are hung virtually edge to edge, creating a lively mix of fooling around. (The two large color images by Mitch Epstein and Lisa Kereszi hung on the nearby walls are an out of place afterthought however, given the density of the rest of the display.) This is the definition of a light summer teaser, likely not worth a separate trip on its own, but attractive and fun for a quick visit if you're already in the neighborhood.

Collector's POV: The images in this small show range in price from $2000 to $40000, with a few NFS (not for sale). I particular enjoyed the Leon Levinstein image of a couple sprawled under graffiti from the 1970s and the André Kertész of a woman's legs on a fire escape from the early 1950s.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Alvin Baltrop artist site (here)
  • NY Times review of Leon Levinstein @ MoMA 1995 (here)
Sexy and the City
Through August 28th

Yossi Milo Gallery
525 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Will Steacy in Harper's

I was recently flipping through the new August issue of Harper's (here) and came across a short photo essay/portfolio (9 images) drawn from Will Steacy's Down These Mean Streets project. It seems that all of our media outlets are now searching for contemporary work that somehow captures the current angst of the nation; scenes of struggle against failure, and despair, and hopelessness, modern day equivalents of the dust bowl shots of the FSA photographers (Evans, Lange, Rothstein et al.). They want to point our attention to the vacant lots and For Rent signs, the abandoned buildings and empty neighborhoods, as if they weren't obviously visible in every town in America.

What I like about Will Steacy's approach to this now overexposed subject is that rather than give us the standard dreary deadpan view of these marginal grey neighborhoods, he has explored this terrain at night, when the street lights add a toxic glare to the surroundings and the threat of undefined danger is now out in the open rather than hiding in the shadows. (Burned Car, Los Angeles, 2009, via Conscientious, at right.) There is a subtle electric buzz in these pictures, capturing that tingling feeling when your senses are on high alert; a mixture of uneasy anxiety, excitement, and a hint of fear, knowing that you are a bit exposed out here in the night. The addition of the darkness turns these streets from merely exhausted and depressing into something altogether more desperate.

And yet these kinds of shadowlands and in between zones are everywhere in this country; dodgy areas of disrepair and decay that form the (growing) border areas between the "good" neighborhoods from coast to coast. So in some ways, the subject matter of these pictures is altogether unsurprising. And while we've seen them before, Steacy has found a way to infuse the rubble piles and security doors with the elusive spirit of the moment: nervous, a bit threatened, and undeniably on edge.

Collector's POV: Will Steacy is represented in New York by Michael Mazzeo Gallery (here). The images from this series come in two sizes, 16x20 and 24x30, priced at $1200 and $2000 respectively. My particular favorite of the images in the Harper's portfolio is Bench, Queens, 2008, an image of a wooden bus bench, sawed apart, leaving only the solitary metal supports.

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here) and blog (here)
  • Down These Mean Streets @NYU Gulf & Western Gallery, 2009 (here)
  • Interviews: Conscientious (here), BOMBlog (here)

Helluva Town @Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 works (often containing multiple images), framed in a mixture of ways and hung in the main gallery space. The images were taken between 1976 and 2009. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists have been included in the show, with the number of images on display in parentheses:

Tina Barney (2)
Eric Cray (1 installation of 107 photos)
Jim Dow (1)
Macduff Everton (2)
Lee Friedlander (4)
Jan Groover (1 triptych)
Ray Mortenson (5)
Martin Parr (1 album containing 100 4x6 images, in a glass case)
John Pfahl (1)
Neil Winokur (3)

Comments/Context: While I am already on the record as not being a particular fan of summer group shows (here), at some point, it really isn't possible to avoid them all. One new twist this year is that a group of prominent photography galleries have all decided to put on group shows with New York themes of various kinds. So since we are collectors of city imagery, I've visited a few of these exhibits, and will report on them starting today and continuing into next week.

"Helluva Town" at Janet Borden doesn't really have any organizing principle beyond being a collection of images of and related to New York, mostly taken by gallery stable artists, and lacking a stronger theme, it feels more like a grab bag than a highly curated affair. That said, there are some solid images on view, worth a quick visit.

We've talked about Ray Mortenson's work on several occasions in the past few months (here and here) and included here are a group of his recent Manhattan scenes, as well as a larger image (40x50) from his earlier South Bronx series. I continue to like both these sets of work.

Jan Groover is represented by a 1970s era color triptych of sidewalks, brick walls, and stairs, covered in shadows. It is an exercise in line and pattern, simple yet effective in evoking the feeling of the streets.

Neil Winokur's candy colored still lifes of New York mementos from 2000 (a kitchy Empire State Building tchotchke, a bright orange traffic cone, and a paper coffee cup) jump off the walls and grab your attention. They're light and fun, and easy to like.

One disappointment was not being able to see the Martin Parr album very well. While it was opened to one spread, it was impossible to see any of the other images, as it was protected by a glass case. Not the best display choice for a group of 100 images.

So while there are quite a few good prints on view here, this show is not thematic enough to draw many thought provoking resonances or juxtapositions from the collected works. Sure, they're individually all about New York at some level, but together they don't tell any particular story of the city.

Collector’s POV: The Mortensons in the show are priced at $3000 for the smaller images and $10000 for the big image printed on linen. The Groover triptych (my favorite of the show) is priced at $18000 (3 15x15 images, in an edition of 3). And the Winokur still lifes are $4000 each (20x16, in editions of 10).

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

Transit Hub:

  • Another Jan Groover city triptych @SFMOMA (here)
  • 2007 NY Times review of Neil Winokur's alphabet (here)

Helluva Town
Through July 31st

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book: Hamish Fulton, Selected Walks, 1969-1989

JTF (just the facts): Published in 1990 by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy on the occasion of an exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. 112 pages, with 62 images. Includes essays by Michael Auping and David Reason, an afterword by Douglas Schultz, and selected exhibitions and bibliography. (Cover shot at right, via Printed Matter.)

Comments/Context: Whenever I need a break during a Chelsea gallery swing, I try to find time to poke around in Printed Matter (here), a crowded treasure trove of artist books, 'zines, and other ephemera, which is where I recently found this old Hamish Fulton catalogue. While Fulton can't exactly be called a photographer, I've run across quite a few photography collectors who have included his work in their collections. I have respected his approach to art making for some time, and was glad to be able to acquire a solid monograph of his work relatively inexpensively.

In the simplest sense, Hamish Fulton takes walks, and then makes artworks that document his experiences on those walks. Fulton has taken walks all over the world, often for hundreds of miles and days on end, crisscrossing his native lands and those far beyond. His images are often a single photograph of the landscape at some point in the journey, along with the factual details of the path, the number of days in transit, and the year, all written in capitals underneath or directly on the picture. They are pared down documents, straightforward and unadorned, recounting the actual experience of his walks.

In our current photography world increasingly enamored with staged fictions, Fulton's work is a refreshingly authentic antidote, a moment of clarity and truth, celebrating a real reconnection with the land. His images of nature are not the romantic stuff of Adams or Porter; in many cases, they seem disinterested or simply adequate. They depict a trail, or a path, or a mile marker, or a vista, with text that chronicles the road taken, or the animals encountered along the way. There are no people, or cars, or cities, just the solitary land stretching out ahead to the horizon.

And yet these works do an excellent job of conveying the feeling of being there, of being in the landscape, of experiencing the terrain and the weather just as Fulton did. In our sedentary lifestyles, we don't get out into the land enough; we are slowly losing the primal rituals of walking, and resting, and smelling the earth, and seeing the sky. Seeing these pictures is an inspiration to get out from behind the computer and rediscover what it is like to go for a really long walk. These works that look like mundane landscapes actually have a surprising resonance, a reminder of what we left behind in our long ago nomadic past.

Collector’s POV: Hamish Fulton is represented by Danese in New York (here), Texas Gallery in Houston (here), and Häusler Contemporary in Zurich (here) among others. Fulton's work comes up at auction from time to time, sometimes in the Photography sales, but more often in the Contemporary Art sales. Recent prices have ranged between $3000 and $15000.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Walking Journey, Tate Britain 2002 (here)

Brett Weston sale @Levin Gallery on eBay

From time to time, being the manic collectors that we are, we check the Photography area on eBay to see what's up for sale. Surprisingly, there are often high quality photographs buried among all the offerings (patient sifting is required), and we have had luck in purchasing some items at very reasonable prices (AKA bargains) over the years.

In doing a quick check yesterday, I came upon a massive group of Brett Weston images up for sale at the Levin Gallery (here, Westons only, sorted by price highest first). According to the background information given there, in 1974-1975, Brett Weston made a set of portfolios of his work called the 100 Print Collection. A total of 10 of these portfolios were made, 6 of which went into public and private collections, the other 4 failed to sell and were broken up by Weston himself. (San Francisco Freeway, 1967, at right top, via Levin Gallery.)
One of the portfolios that was in private hands has now come free, and the owner has decided to keep 9 of the images and sell the rest. Therefore, there are a staggering 91 Brett Weston images, all printed in the mid 1970s, up on sale right now. (Broken Window, San Francisco, 1937, at right bottom, via Levin Gallery.)

Normally, such a large group would swamp the market and drive prices down, so the typical eBay auction method is not being used. Instead, each lot has been given an anchor "Buy It Now" price and the option to "Make An Offer". The anchor prices vary between $3500 on the low end up to $15000 on the high end, with many in the $8000 range. The text however goes out of its way to remind potential bidders that "all reasonable offers will be considered", so clearly there is some flexibility to move prices downward. In general, the prices seem to reflect a gallery retail kind of price, rather than a secondary market auction price. My guess is that at auction many of these would go for plus or minus half the anchor price (or less). That said, there are quite a few unusual images in this group, some of which we have never seen, so scarcity may play a role in keeping prices higher.
In any case, if Brett Weston is your thing, or you've always wanted to own one, now is a great time to see a large group together and potentially pick off one or more fine prints at a reasonable price.
Levin Gallery eBay store (here)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

John Cowey Leaving Bloomsbury Auctions

John Cowey, Head of the Photographs Department in New York, is leaving Bloomsbury Auctions, effective tomorrow. Specialist Hannah Hayden will remain to handle the operational details of the upcoming October sale.

Bloomsbury's entry into the competitive Photographs auction market in New York last year couldn't have come at a harder time, just as the overall economy started to get rough. The results of its sales in the past two seasons have been on the soft side, to be expected in building a client base and a new stream of consignments in this kind of economic climate. That said, the proceeds to the house from these two sales can't have been much (perhaps not even enough to cover the costs of the department), so it isn't a surprise exactly that the pressure was mounting. What John's departure means for the future of the department remains unclear.

After Color: Curated by Amani Olu @Bose Pacia

JTF (just the facts): A total of 32 works by nine different artists, hung in a single gallery space with a dividing wall. All of the works come from the period 2000-2009, with most made in the last year or so. The exhibit was curated by Amani Olu. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists have been included in the show, with the number of works on display in parentheses and background details on the prints afterward:
  • Michael Bühler-Rose (3): Framed in white with no mat; 8x10, acrylic on photogram
  • Talia Chetrit (8): Framed in black with no mat; 8x10; gelatin silver contact prints, in editions of 4+1
  • Matthew Gamber (4): Not framed; 40x50; archival inkjet prints; in editions of 3
  • Stephen Gill (1): Artist book, unfolded to show 18 images; pinned to wall with no frame; in edition of 1000
  • Adrien Missika (4): Taped directly to wall with no frame; 8x12; screen prints on paper; in editions of 5
  • Pushpamala N (4): Framed in black with no mat; 5.75x8; C prints on metallic paper; in unlimited editions
  • Noel Rodo-Vankeulen (1): Running loop of animated GIFs on screen; in edition of 10
  • Arthur Ou (3): Framed in grey metal with no mat; 51x40; archival pigment prints on silver rag tape; in editions of 4+1
  • Michael Vahrenwald (4): Framed in black with no mat; 16x24; gelatin silver prints; in editions of 5+2
Comments/Context: In a photography world recently and overwhelmingly dominated by digital color, the rightful place for work done in black and white is still unsettled. In just a few short years, making monochrome photographs has become a contrarian act, an overt rejection of the mainstream. For many, this rebellion is nostalgia in hiding, a desire to go back to the old, classic ways that we have loved for so long. But for others, using black and white represents a bolder and surprising step forward, a movement beyond the homogeneity of color and the search for something altogether new.

The group show now on at Bose Pacia gathers together a sampling of photographers who are testing this new boundary, using black and white as an element of more conceptual work. The standouts in this show (for us) are Matthew Gamber, Stephen Gill, and Talia Chetrit; many of the others seemed a bit forced - trying too hard or still struggling to refine their ideas into something truly novel.

Matthew Gamber makes images of empty, erased chalkboards. From a distance, they appear rubbed and washed, the slate color tinged with remnants of white. Up close, the boards are covered in minute scratches and scrapes, smudges and tape residue, creating a historical record of wear and tear (or perhaps the scene of a ritual erasing of a Cy Twombly). Overall, they are hauntingly meditative and quiet.

Stephen Gill's artist book A Series of Disappointments creates a typology like conceptual framework for the infinite variety found in losing betting slips. They are crumpled and crushed, folded and balled, ripped and twisted, all discarded. Photographed against a neutral grey background, they become a kind of delicate origami of loneliness and despair.

Talia Chetrit's Photoshop gradients bring to mind the nuanced experiments with light of Luisa Lambri. The best of these abstract works play with the edges of tonality, adding an element of cool refinement to color field painting. This type of camera-less Photoshop art seems to signal a big open space for artists to explore (Cory Arcangel is another artist/photographer working in this mode), the new technology asking and requiring artists to make new innovative art, rather than making the same old pictures in new ways. In just a few years, I expect we'll see an entire subcategory of this kind of work.

Overall, this is a well edited show that provides a thoughtful array of new black and white work. While I'm not sure it delivers a satisfyingly complete answer for what comes "after color", it certainly provides some potential signposts for where to look for the answers.

Collector’s POV: None of the emerging artists in this show have any meaningful secondary market, so collectors will need to consider gallery retail as the only available option for acquiring the work. A quick rundown on the generally reasonable prices:
  • Michael Bühler-Rose: $800 each
  • Talia Chetrit: 8 images sold as a set for $6400
  • Matthew Gamber: $4500 each
  • Stephen Gill: $350 for book
  • Adrien Missika: $850 each
  • Pushpamala N: $300 each
  • Noel Rodo-Vankeulen: $280
  • Arthur Ou: $6000 each
  • Michael Vahrenwald: $2000 each

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

Transit Hub:
  • Stephen Gill artist website (here)
  • Matthew Gamber artist website (here)
  • Talia Chetrit artist website (here)
  • Flavorwire interview with Amani Olu (here)
  • Amani Olu website (here)
  • Charlotte Cotton: The New Color: The Return of Black-and-White (here)
After Color: Curated by Amani Olu
Through August 21st

Bose Pacia
508 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001