Alvin Baltrop: At the Hudson River Piers at Galerie Buchholz

Alvin Baltrop: At the Hudson River Piers at Galerie Buchholz

by Diana McClure

The photographs in Alvin Baltrop: At the Hudson River Piers were taken in a pre-AIDS era, roughly 1975-1986, and feature gay men amidst the crumbling ruins of New York City’s Hudson River piers. On view at Galerie Buchholz through August 19, Baltrop’s images invoke a mixture of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoeroticism, architectural photography, and images of classical sculpture.

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Irving Penn 1950 at Pace MacGill

Irving Penn 1950 at Pace MacGill

by Diana McClure

Photo: Diana McClure

Photo: Diana McClure

Elegance refined and democratically applied could define the work of legendary photographer, Irving Penn. Eight years after his passing at age 92 in New York, 2017 marks the centennial of Penn’s birth. The occasion is being honored with a retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and smaller gallery exhibitions across New York City, including Pace MacGill’s, Irving Penn 1950.

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Ima Mfon: Nigerian Identitites / Donna Ruff: The Migrant Series at Rick Wester Fine Art

IMA MFON: NIGERIAN IDENTITIES / DONNA RUFF: THE MIGRANT SERIES AT RICK WESTER FINE ART

by Diana McClure

 Photos: Anders Jones

Two solo exhibitions, Ima Mfon’s series Nigerian Identities and Donna Ruff’s The Migrant Series, are presented in dialogue with each other at Rick Wester Fine Art, through April 22, as a curatorial choice. Together they amplify what appears to be a global reckoning with notions of migration and immigration, both voluntary and forced.  

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Meghann Riepenhoff: Littoral Drift at Yossi Milo Gallery

Meghann Riepenhoff: Littoral Drift at Yossi Milo Gallery

Words by Diana McClure/  Photography by Anders Jones

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Meghann Riepenhoff’s latest photographic artwork is made in collaboration with the natural world. Her “living prints” are baptized through a process that uses rainstorms, snow, ocean waves and other earthly elements as central to the development of her one-of-a-kind prints. The body of work, titled Littoral Drift, employs a cameraless, cyanotype photographic process, using paper, light and chemistry to magnificent effect.

Riepenhoff begins by coating sheets of paper with a homemade cyanotype emulsion; a mix of chemicals, producing a cyan blue print that can be altered to create a range of blue tonalities. In addition to submerging the paper in a variety of forms of water, the interaction of sunlight, sand and salt with the chemicals results in staggeringly voluptuous abstractions in a wide-ranging palette of blues and white.

A sublime familiarity can be found in the large-scale works featured in the exhibition. Without even knowing Riepenhoff's process, ocean vistas and NASA style topographical views of planet earth, as well as batik and tie-dye traditions of printing, come to mind. The added knowledge of how her images come to life, only increases the wonder found in the organic, natural and earthy feel of it.

In the final "fixing" stages of her chemical process, Riepenhoff leaves any lingering photosensitive chemistry in tact, setting the stage for future shifts in color and texture over time (sometimes a result of salt residue). This artistic choice echoes the element of chance found in the historical processes of early photography and science used in the work, as well as her own interest as an artist in the theme of impermanence.

Many of the works are comprised of a grid or grouping of images. Single pieces, diptychs and triptychs within one frame, and large-scale works comprised of multiple cyanotypes, create complete works of art that are structurally compelling. In, Littoral Drift #464 (Bainbridge Island, WA 12.07.16, Seven Simulated Waves, Freezing and Melting), 2016, 48 cyanotypes at 19"x24" each, are presented as a grid at the size of 113 1/4" x 190 3/8". The only unframed work in the exhibition, it is also the largest piece; a stunning abstraction of what could be crashing waves, ocean spray and seam foam. A textured sprinkling of white dots covers one area of the piece; perhaps salt crystals in the mist of metamorphosis.

All of the works on view are named for their location, date, and the atmospheric conditions under which they were made, a nod to nature as Riepenhoff's collaborator.

 

AIPAD: The Photography Show at Pier 94

AIPAD: The Photography Show at Pier 94

Words by Diana McClure/  Photography by Anders Jones

An annual occurrence in New York City for the last decade, the AIPAD Photography Show's move from the East Side to the West Side this year was a smart choice. Shedding the heavy ominous architecture of the Park Avenue Armory, the show moved to the airy and much larger environs of Pier 94 on the Hudson River. Making space for 150 participants, including galleries, organizations and publishers from around the world, this year's event included approximately 50 new dealers, expanding the Association of Independent Photography Art Dealers impact immensely. 

The spaciousness of the new location lent itself to the curious atmosphere of discovery that art fairs can have when they are designed with an eye toward the overall experience of viewers.  However, despite the more modern atmosphere, plenty of traditional photography was on view. Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas’ straight forward black and white photographs from her series, Prince Street Girls, were presented as a portfolio of 12 silver prints by Galerie Catherine et André Hug out of Paris. The small-scale images simple presentation elegantly highlighted the intimate subject matter of personal relationships. Featuring a group of girls growing up in New York City's Little Italy, Meiselas' images offer a rare glimpse into the antics of girlhood with iconic fashion staples like plaid (presumably Catholic school) skirts, knee socks and feathered hair, as signifiers of a specific moment in time.

Another glimpse into late 20th century New York neighborhood life was represented in the work of documentary photographer Martha Cooper, presented by Steven Kasher Gallery. Cooper has published approximately twenty books, including the worldwide classic Subway Art, a collaboration with Henry Chalfant first published in 1984. She is known for one of the most highly regarded bodies of work capturing the emergence of early hip-hop and graffiti culture in New York City and several prints from that collection were on view. Impeccably printed and presented unframed and at different sizes, the photographs offer stunning views of the colorful poetic magic of early graffiti. For the uninitiated, images of graffiti art stretched across subway cars on above ground tracks and outdoor platforms, embedded in the landscape of the Bronx and elsewhere, reveal the surreal awe of what living in a city with moveable, ephemeral, mysterious art making might look like.  

Another photographer using natural light, Lise Sarfati, used the urban landscape of 2013 in the City of Los Angeles as a muse. In a series of large-scale works entitled, Oh Man, presented by Belgian and France based, La Galerie Particulière, the artist set up shop with a tripod and camera across the street from carefully selected locations, waiting for portraits to emerge. With minimalist backgrounds found in downtown Los Angeles chosen for what appears to be swaths of clean natural light and tight color palettes, Sarfati created images of what could be described as 'figures in a landscape'. Using random people as they walked through the frame for the final element in each artwork, complimentary colors in the clothing and shoes of her subjects, as well as personal style, flush out a simple, yet compelling take on portraiture.

An interesting technologically based work by Jim Campbell was presented front and center at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. The work combined video and still photography of the Tuileries Garden, a public garden near the Louvre in Paris. Campbell, a renowned electronic light artist and former recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, is also an electrical engineer. The work on view included a photograph of the garden printed on plexiglass and placed in front of a panel of LED lights. A video of the garden featuring people strolling through the exact same location as the still image, often dressed in black with black umbrellas, is projected from the back, through the image, as well. The video's low resolution helps give the figures a blurry ghost-like effect, while the plexiglass diffuses the imagery. At first glance, passers by may think the random figures passing through the frame are reflections of themselves, somehow temporarily embedded in the image on screen. 

Undoubtedly, this year's Photography Show presented by AIPAD offered a delightful amount of visual adventure in the world of photography, alongside a new foray into photo books and publishing, and a full schedule of panel discussions everyday. Coupled with its presentation in a modern space, next years show should be a must see.

Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise at Steven Kasher Gallery

Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise at Steven Kasher Gallery

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

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Upon entering Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise, a deeply cinematic experience in still life imagery awaits. Black and white and color photographs flow across expansive gallery walls in a variety of sizes, installed at different heights. The topsy-turvy installation appears to act as a metaphor for the emotional narrative ofthe female protagonists in the images, as well as the continuity of scenes found in a film.

In fact, the photographs reference three films: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Robert Altman’s Three Women and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; and, are part of Rothen’s second monograph, Shadows in Paradise, published by b. frank books.

The women portrayed in the images tote guns and knives, wine glasses and cigarettes, and don negligees and dresses against a 1950s style domestic backdrop.  Elegantly posed, the models, one of which is Rothen, dramatize staged scenes in what appears to be a tormented woman’s quiet malaise. Shot in upstate New York, the characters were first introduced to Rothen’s public via her premiere publication, Snow and Rose & Other Tales.

Once viewers enter an area of the gallery blocked off by black curtains, the deeper implications of Rothen’s characters, and their larger commentary on the social construction of femininity, begin to gain more clarity.  The space features the debut of Rothen’s two-channel short film, The Woman with a Crown. The video is based on Princess Diana’s 1995 television appearance in which she intimately shares details of the demise of her marriage to Prince Charles and the royal family’s less than gracious reaction.

Rothen’s plays four characters, one of which is Princess Diana, all speaking Diana’s words. Each voice starts a phrase slightly after the woman before her, creating an echo or round-robin effect. The sound comes from several speakers in different locations in the room; adding to the ethereal quality of the work.  The dual screens, sound design, and performances by Rothen standing still facing the audience against a backdrop, help viewers to disassociate from the emotional pull of the still images in the main gallery. A critical eye starts to take shape and the limitations ofubiquitous princess narratives across cultures and centuries become evident.

In an interesting twist, Rothen’s images may suggest how women have been complicit in their own trauma. The questionable aspiration towards a constructed womanhood that prioritizes and normalizes, through film and other media, a particular female persona seems to be Rothen’s ultimate critique.

The farther I remember at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery

The farther I remember at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery

Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

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The mystery and virtuosity of expressing memory are on view in a curiously interesting group show of photographs, The farther I remember, at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery. The cadre of photographers on view, including Carolle Bénitah, Robin Cracknell, Eava Hannula, and Susanne Wellm, form an international grouping of artists with distinct styles. However, each artist makes the life of interiority, where memories are housed, accessible to viewers.

The work as a whole presents recognizable cues, such as old family photos and images of childhood, as well as a variety of techniques, most notably, the layering of imagery that illuminates the passage of time and its mind-altering effects. Of note is the astute curatorial choice of color relationship amongst the work of the four artists. The palette is grounded in black and white with pops of color and texture that distinguish each group of images.

Bénitah’s work as a fashion designer, prior to the last fifteen years she has spent as a photographer, is evident in her mixed media images. Sewing and beading work are woven into old family photographs as a way of transforming family history. The color red is dominant in much of the stitching and beading directing the viewers eye to the power of the transformer and perhaps to key players in Bénitah’s storytelling.

Iconic psychoanalytic theoretician Sigmund Freud is referenced in the work of Hannula. In staged photographs multiple narratives collide in toned down surrealist imagery. Her choice to adhere to a color palette of three makes the somewhat incomprehensible images alluring by bracketing dream-like imagery in neatly composed clips. In some of her images a feeling of motion is generated by this technique creating a sense of being at the center of a story with an unknown beginning and end.  Time is disrupted and rendered non-linear.

Cracknell’s use of a soft muted color palette is reminiscent of hues on lazy summer days and early fall afternoons.  He is known for using discarded film cuttings as part of his production process.  In several images aspects of a young boy’s face are covered – a mouth with what looks like a bandage, eyes with the boys arms, a face blocked out with a white dot, and eyes covered with a black line through a photograph. What is unseen and unspoken seems to be at play in much of the work.

Lastly, Wellm, who has a background in printmaking, uses multiple techniques including Polaroid, Super 8 film, digital photography and collage to create multilayered images that seem to speak to a less personal dialogue on the topic of time and memory. Landscape, linguistic references and touches of what appears to be hand drawn and somewhat abstract imagery converge to varying degree in her work.

The farther I remember offers a refreshing and innovative vision on where photography can go when technique, subjectivity and universal themes are interlaced with grace and subtlety. It also offers, intentionally or not, a quietly powerful intrigue, quality, and creative force as a group show offering.

 

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

The prolific evidence of an artist who has engaged the medium of painting and shaped it into a succinct and recognizable vision is on view in the retrospective exhibition, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.  Occupying nearly two floors of exhibition space at the The Met Breuer, a treasure trove of work from the artist’s thirty-five year career immortalizes the black experience in America through an evocative series of narrative paintings.  The black figure, traditionally absent in the art historical canon of text books and rarefied culture, is central to his oeuvre and is situated within well known archetypes of western painting including: the historical tableau, landscape, genre painting, and portraiture.

The work also references mural and comic book aesthetics, two mediums that have also been traditionally absent from the field of so-called high art. Photography, an art form that was not officially considered “art” until the late 20th century, is also on view in a small room that features both conceptual and candid images by Marshall. Aside from sophisticated skills as a painter and engaging storyteller, Marshall’s intentional choice of content and breadth of aesthetic styles works to expand the established art historical mainstream and bring fresh an imaginative life to contemporary visual culture.

Although, the figure is primary throughout the exhibition, a pair of abstract paintings, Untitled Blot (2014) and Untitled Blot (2015), offers a visual pause in the curation of the space.  Amidst the narrative plot lines of subsets of paintings throughout the exhibition, they riff on the colors of the Pan-African flag (red, black and green), comment on the politics of modernism for black artists, and play with metaphors in relation to the Rorschach test. Despite the fact that the conceptual underpinnings of the paintings are not necessarily obvious, the work is boldly delightful in its use of an amusing color palette that works hot pink, yellow and a few other shades into their red, black and green reference, resulting in a striking symmetrical pattern. 

A recurring thread throughout Marshall’s paintings is the multi-tonality of the color black evident in the intricate shading and use of light and shadow to indicate highlights in facial features and hair texture. However, skin color remains the same shade of black throughout all of his paintings, perhaps a metaphor to signal his intention to speak of black culture as a whole. Subject matter ranges from depictions of black artists in their studios, African Americans at leisure - strolling, biking, golfing, and camping – to a series on the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and scenes from beauty salons, romance, and more. In his series on leisure, the Garden Project, several large scale paintings feature black figures set among lawns, trees and birds- idealized landscapes - in front of both low income housing, such as Los Angeles’ Nickerson Gardens, and suburban homes.

Marshall’s ability to capture intimate, community-based and historical narratives in his works is very much grounded in the rhythms of daily life. However, his unique eye and insider’s point of view elevates and celebrates the stages, dramas, and scenes where black life plays out day in and day out, presenting viewers with a magnificently rich and bountiful American tableau.

Andreas Gursky: Not Abstract II at Gagosian

Andreas Gursky: Not Abstract II at Gagosian

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

The work of photographer Andreas Gursky stays true to form in his current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, majestic images that make a statement due to their size, clarity and omniscient vision. Viewers will most likely be of one or two mindsets upon contact with the images - thrilled at the power and beauty of extra-large scale photographs or chilled by their cool detached rendering of culture at large.

At times, Gursky’s work has been characterized as a clinical or encyclopedic capturing of contemporary industry - economic activity that deals with the processing of raw materials and the manufacturing of goods.  A concern with the object, whether it be, vacuum cleaners, luxury high-rises or fields of tulips, is revealed and abstracted. Gursky uses scale and point of view to remove viewers from a subjective personal experience of things. This strategy creates distance or an opening up of space for contemplation of greater organizational forces in society.

In a somewhat ominous image, titled Review, the backs of four seated individuals, from the shoulders up, span the bottom third of the horizontal image. The figures resemble heads of state, with one possibly being Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany.  They are seated in front of what appears to be a large red painting that takes up nearly the entire photograph and are enclosed in what appears to be a glass boardroom.  The predominance of the color red in the image underscores the overwhelming nature of political power, while the glass may signify the fragility of that power. Together the turned backs and the glass suggest a paradox - the illusion of transparency.  The proportion of the image taken up by the painting and the small scale of the figures is accentuated by smoke from a cigar billowing up into the red background - creating a disquieting sense of unease and mystery. The image is a striking example of a minimalist aesthetic using form and content to make a profound comment on the nature of politics and power in contemporary culture.

Several other images in the exhibition stretch the imagination by stimulating a speculative questioning in viewers. A landscape of solar panels in the image, Les Mées, captures the Les Mées solar farm in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, in southern France. The area known for the rolling hills of the La Colle des Mées plateau, is beautifully rendered in the photograph, which interlaces landscape photography, landscape painting (due to its monumental size) and commentary on renewable energy sources. Once again form and content are masterfully woven together, invoking a very real awareness of human being’s inescapable relationship to the environment.

Much of Gursky’s work is created with a large-scale camera and digital manipulation that creates a supreme clarity in his images that helps to generate a sense of emotional detachment in viewers, allowing them to unleash a critical eye on the workings of the world, and ultimately how all of humanity is tied together, one way or another.