Monday, January 11, 2010

Andrey Vrady, Reconquista @Sputnik

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 color works (13 single images and 1 triptych), mounted but not framed, and hung in the single room gallery and the small back office area. All of the images are archival digital inkjet prints on Baryta paper, made in 2009, and printed in editions of 3, 4 or 5. The works come in a variety of sizes, but no dimensions were available. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: If we ask ourselves where the largest wide open white spaces for experimentation in contemporary photography reside, the use of digital manipulation must clearly be among the most promising territories for new exploration. I'm not talking about the now ubiquitous digital clean-up, color correction, and sharpening (which we tend to lump into "photoshopping" with a mix of anxiety and disdain); I'm referring to a complete rethinking of how photographic imagery can be used as a starting point for computer-constructed picture making, where photography moves back toward painting, with digital files taking the place of paints on a palette.
Andrey Vrady has stepped out into the digital unknown by borrowing a relatively simple but powerful idea found in centuries of Islamic art: begin with a straightforward geometric form and multiply it out into a kaleidoscope of complex ornamental patterns. But instead of using delicate hand painted flowers or lattices of carved lines as his raw material, Vrady uses snapshots of everyday city streets and parks, employing mirroring and refraction to make cars, buses, crosswalks, snowy trees, and airplanes in flight into complicated arabesques. His photographs are like walls of Iznik tiles: up close, the spare forms come into focus, but from ten feet, the images are transformed into dense, hyperactive abstractions, full of kinetic energy. While most of the works are rigidly symmetrical, a few take the copying of geometries further into lacy whorls that spin off like Persian fractals.
Calling an artwork decorative is often considered the ultimate backhanded compliment, an ugly slap from the more high minded toward work that is deemed too pretty and/or vacant of more profound ideas. Vrady's photographic geometries are indeed overtly eye catching and decorative, and yet, I think there is a nugget of an intriguing conceptual framework hiding here as well. While not every image in this show is completely successful, the best of the works are those that push the limits of complexity, that multiply the repetitions into rushing cascades of pattern. The reason they are interesting is that they go beyond what the masters of Islamic art did in stone, mosaic and paint; they use the digital tools to make images that resonate with the traditions of the past, but in a wholly modern form. This is a show that seems like a prelude, an appetizer that makes you look forward to the main course; Vrady has made a good start with these images, but with further refinements and evolutions of the main concept, I think where he goes next may be even more surprising.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced between $1300 and $5000 (for the triptych), with nearly every image having a different price along this spectrum, apparently roughly based on size. Vrady has no secondary market history, so interested collectors will need to follow up at retail. In general, I think these images would fit well into collections of contemporary city/street photography (like ours), as well as more cutting edge collections of digitally manipulated contemporary work.

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

Transit Hub:

  • Principles of Islamic Art and Design (here)
Through January 16th

547 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

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