Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Max Kozloff: New York Means Business 1977-1984 @Higher Pictures

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung in the small single room gallery space. All of the works are c-prints, taken between 1977 and 1984. The images have been printed in one of two sizes: 20x16 (or reverse) or 3x2 (or reverse); there are 13 of the large size and 12 of the small size in the show. Kozloff does not edition his prints, and as such, the works on view are a mix of vintage and later prints. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Max Kozloff is probably best known as a wide-ranging art historian, an exacting art critic, and a former editor of Artforum. That Kozloff is also a talented photographer in his own right was news to me, and this small show of his early work certainly helped to place his artistic output into the larger framework of 1970s color photography.

Kozloff's faded images of tired New York storefronts and window displays fall into a long subject matter tradition, reaching back to Atget and Abbott, and on to the crackling compositional experiments of Friedlander. While a few of Kozloff's storefronts follow in the traditional mode, providing elements of the surrounding architecture as context, most of his images have cropped out the framing, centering on the view through the glass itself and into the careful arrangements on display. His works feature the random marginalia of commerce: columns of twine, dusty curtains in various colors, a dense array of gold watches, triangular towers of fabric, and a parade of wigs. Other images add a layer or two of visual complexity, using mirrors to capture multiple angles, sunglasses to capture fleeting self-portraits, and reflections from the street to tell more dense and complicated stories. Placed in the context of the color experimentation going on in the 1970s, Kosloff's images show the beginnings of employing color as a primary and featured compositional tool.
While I'm not sure I can detect a refined and original voice in these pictures, it is clear that Kozloff was working through the same visual challenges that were confronting photographers like Levitt and Callahan, trying to bridge from an accepted black and white methodology into an entirely different mode of visual thinking. Color for color's sake was becoming the new norm, and I see this body of work as yet another well-crafted example of a transitional effort to span the two sets of adjacent but competing aesthetic ideas.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows: the 20x16 prints are $3200 each, and the 3x2 prints are $2300 each. Kozloff's work is not widely available in the secondary markets; the few public sales results that I could find were all under $1000.
My favorite image in the show was Zipper Shop, 1978; it's on the far right in the top installation shot. In it, strips of zipper ribbon hang from a sagging pair of wires, creating an eye-catching striped design, punctuated by the stenciled words on the window itself. The composition seems to have one foot in the old world and one in the new, using splashes of bright color as the focal point, enriching and rebalancing an otherwise standard view.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Books: The Theatre of the Face, 2008 (here), New York: Capital of Photography, 2002 (here)
Max Kozloff: New York Means Business 1977-1984
Through May 7th

Higher Pictures
764 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10065

1 comment:

John Armstrong said...

New to me too. I'll have to reread his essays with this new fact (and hopefully some images) in mind.