Wednesday, October 1, 2014
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Leo Rubinfien’s Garry Winogrand retrospective and thinking a lot about street photography. In particular, Rubenfien argues that Winogrand’s late pictures from Los Angeles are a quality body of work and not, as Szarkowski argues, an unfinished problem left incomplete by Winogrand’s untimely death. During my falling into a wormhole of Winogrand pictures, out of nowhere Mr. Camardo was nice enough to send me a copy of his new book of LA street work, and my first thought was, wow, Camardo kills Winogrand’s later pictures. Granted, I fall on the Szarkowski end of the debate over Winogrand’s later work, but still, if Winogrand had ended up with Camardo’s images, there would be no doubt of the quality of his late photographs.
Now, I am not trying to be unfair and saddle Camardo with a Winogrand comparison. But Camardo at his best takes the tragic chaos of Winogrand’s LA work and crams it into the meticulous frames of Friedlander, if Friedlander worked in color and was a little more formally stiff. The books starts with a man in front of convenience store holding a cross to the sky and ends with a man radiating light as he sits Indian style on a sidewalk. It is the LA that as a New Yorker I always imagined. Yet, as good as Camardo is, some of the pictures, like the well-lighted steps of an LA mansion, feel like filler or, at best, setting the scene for some of the meatier images. And more than one picture seem to have been taken from a car, which is a limitation, except when it is overcome, as it is in a stunning frame of street signs that lead to man painting a pink garage. Driving pictures do make sense for LA, which is certainly an automobile town, but at times, the car vantage point feels like just too high a hurdle, even for someone as talented as Camardo. But when his daring pictures come together, they become a perfect synopsis of all 70’s photography, rigid architectural pictures with hints of social economic issues, whit an improbable grouping of strangers forming a coherent narrative. The pictures are exceedingly impressive, like one of a row of garbage cans outside an apartment building, with a older lady beautifully lit by warm light in the top right corner, an older man putting out what looks like a rug in the center and a small child alone at the bottom of the stairs at the lower left. Camardo is what would have happened if Winogrand had bought a 4x5in and hadn’t died.
I am not sure what Yasi Ghanbari has against Tom from Toms Shoes, the liberal company that sells stuff and uses some of the profits to help poor people (apparently there is no Tom, just a guy named Blake). But I love that the art she makes really seems, in a cryptic way, to be sticking it to Tom/Blake. The centerpiece is an extended video where the artist, wearing no clothes, comically struggles, with the help of a man off-camera, to use her own backside as a stamp to decorate canvas colored drapes. The video screen is flanked by what might be drapes from the video, and her derrière stamps have produced a colorful flower print. The drapes are so convincing, I feel that I have seen them at IKEA. So much so that I almost suspect the video is reverse-engineered from actual IKEA drapes. Each set of drapes is paired with shoes that I assume are made by Toms Shoes and come from a pile of Toms shoeboxes in the corner of the show.
I think it’s fair to say that butt-printed curtains paired with shoes made to benefit the less fortunate is a critique, but I would be a little hard pressed to say how. There are also some white steps printed with a 90’s cartoonishly diverse ad for Benetton clothes featuring a varied cast of models, that I feel was shorthand for the 90’s tendency to over-correct for all the hate, racism, and misogyny in the history of modern culture up to that point. So I am also taking that one as a clear shot at Tom/Blake. Then there is a mannequin wearing a Toms shirt twisting on a yoga mat with, I want to say Toms coffee, and watching a slide show of the very white young Tom/Blake with non-western kids. Which again seemed like a pretty aggressive dig at consumerism trying to fix the world through selling over-priced luxury goods. And this all appears across form a very attractive video of Ghanbari in bed behind a screen of steam talking on her iPhone about, I think, art theory (it was a little loud at the opening and I couldn’t quite make out the conversation). Again I don’t know much about Toms Shoes, but I do love that the work has an edge and is taking on things beyond the art world. It is not something you often see in the Brooklyn art scene. You also don’t tend to see the level of execution Ghanbari brings to her work, which feels both professional and ambitious. Also the back of the press release has this charming list
Purchases made in this exhibition resulted in the following actions:
1 week of clean water (140 liters) was given to a person in need.
2 trees were planted.
7 pairs of shoes were given to 7 people in need.
1 pair of glasses was given to a person in need.
1 backpack was given to a child in need.
Through Oct. 10th
Oh shit, Stephen muther fukin’ Shore is back, the man who launched 90% of MFA photography students in the mid 2000’s! No, not making indulgent iBooks, not making incomprehensible dry work about Venice. No, mark your calendars, the man is back, and to be the man you need to beat the man (to quote Rick Flair). Alex Soth, I feel the ball is your court, because this is the best straight, traditional, what have you, photography show that I’ve see in some time, as well as the best example of what is possible from an artist who is already on top of the mountain. This is on some Rick Ruben, Johnny Cash shit. I can’t stress enough that this is a killer show, and there is an equally impressive book that goes with it.
I saw this work maybe a year ago at one of those MoMA talks, and I was shocked and excited to see more and then nothing. I almost forgot about it. But now with the Chelsea season started, blam! awesomeness. Apparently Stephen Shore has been spending time in Israel and the Ukraine and has taken out all the tools in his playbook from every era of his illustrative career and applied them to hot button social landscapes. There are a grid of off-handed street pictures, stunning large-format landscapes, photographs of high, almost two-dimensional horizons and images of plates of food. It’s like Stephan Shore went to a Stephan Shore fantasy camp and made all the work you would most like to see an older Stephan Shore make. It’s almost disorienting to see this much new work in the varied styles that he’s worked in his whole life.
Now, I know this may sound like the gushing of a fan boy over his favorite band getting back together to play the hits and relive there glory days. But Shore uses his often-dry approach to the world to transform two very potentially fraught political situations, Israel and the Ukraine, into something human and relatable. In the photographs, Israel seems shockingly large and empty. It is hard to see the ancient cities surrounded by large expanses of desert and not find the area’s conflict all the more perplexing. It's a perfect example of things that the camera can show, lots of space that can clearly accommodate two very similar peoples, even with their fraught history. Shore’s trademark dryness is the perfect temperament to get a reasonable sense of the place, which so often is only shown through a constant haze of hysteria. The Israel images are matched with a grid of pictures from the Ukraine that don’t speak at all to the Orange Revolution or the ousting of a president, and outside of a Lenin bust jammed onto a shelf there is no hint of Russia’s influence, much less an invasion. What you do get is a view of a contemporary rural lifestyle that doesn’t feel that removed from the 60’s or even the post World War II era when Jews fled the Eastern Europe to form the State of Israel. The work is just so good that it makes me very happy.
Through Nov. 1st
I remember thinking that Graham’s show A Shimmer of Possibility was so amazing that I couldn’t wrap my head around how indifferent I had been to his work up until that point. It made me go back and pick up a book or two and really sit with stuff I had seen quickly, digested and thought, nope not for me. Hell, for years I’ve had a copy of his book of Asian men and engines on my bookshelf wondering why I had picked it up, even at heavy discount at the Strand. After much reflection, I can swear by Graham’s early work of dudes on the dole, some of the Ireland work. I love the graffiti on bathroom stalls and have a wavering interest in the club work and the washed out poor people pictures. But man, Shimmer was so good, and the follow up show was good, but seemed to get a more immediate acclaim than I remember Shimmer got when it was up at MoMA. It was like everyone who had missed Shimmer and now considered it as one of the seminal works of this generation were suddenly out to pay their due respects. The work was good, but a tad redundant, an and it felt like Graham was taking the newfound interest as the chance to do a master’s class on what it is to make a picture, or a more instructional and less political version of Shimmer.
Well, he is back, and by back I mean to his old ways, which is his right, I suppose. The show is the mix of three unrelated series interspersed in a creative hanging, not unlike the hanging of Shimmer. It has rainbows, storefronts in an outer borough and an African American woman or women asleep in colorful sheets. Now, I guess from the small bed and the sparse walls, the women could call one of these less than fancy streets home and the rainbows are? …. a hackneyed metaphor for a better tomorrow? I am not sure, and looking at the work, I don’t have a lot of confidence that Graham does either. There are some nice pictures, the rainbows are pretty and universally strong images. The streets and women have some strong individual images, but the repetitive nature of the series isn’t supported by the quality of the pictures and feels like a bad hangover from the Beecher-influenced conceptual series from the 90’s. But maybe he is just doing a master class on a photographic style I don’t like. Either way, it’s work of a certain quality that stayed with me for a while after I saw the show. I am pretty sure I don’t like it, but I am still interested in it.
Through Oct. 4th
Clamp Art does like its male nudity. I think they do a much better job when they stick to the photo version of it, but I am guessing this kind of thing moves.
Through Oct. 11th
If you missed Kristine Potter’s exquisite black and white portraits of cadets, then you are already losing at life. Something about her pictures of sharply dressed young men, often alone in the woods, always seemed to expose an unspoken sexual repression from the sitter. The subjects always seemed like they were about to walk into a romance novel or a gay porn but were never doing anything that wasn’t above board and in keeping with the code of conduct of a military institution for young men.
I am not sure what has happened since then, but things appear to have become unwound and possibly been left out to dry in the brisk desert light that cuts through much of her recent work. The show is filled with brightly lit underbrush that feels like she is riding shotgun on a road trip with Friedlander, Benson and Szarkowski. The wonderful pictures of thickets and western landscapes are interspersed with portraits of men. Not the young cadets, just out of boyhood, but the men one might find on the edges of the southwest, men that live in a Cormac McCarthy novel, cowboys and burnouts splaying out on rocks, taking shade along river banks or shuffling out of improvised living situations. They all seem to be men who at this point in their lives they are way past the promise of a life in, say, the military. They are from the book after the romance novel where all the tearing of clothes turns out to be the result of emotional instability and a growing substance issue, or the moment just after a porn shoot where actors are left to wonder why their lives have led them to that point. The men aren’t confined by overly formal military attire, and let loose in the still emptied out and unfettered west. I am not entirely sure what has led Potter to these places, but it is certainly a pleasure to be taken along as she makes visually lavish work while bumping up against the edges of society.
Through Nov. 1st
Somewhere between Sharon Harper’s empty formal pictures of skies? water? and maybe just plain abstractions and Joni Sternbach’s documentary pictures of people riding the subways in the 70’s, is photography I enjoy. Its like RWFA is looking to go a step past Szarkowski’s Mirror and Windows into work that has too little and maybe too much going on in it. The exhibitions show two opposing poles of photography, the kind of thing that leave people with the impression that photography is either a lesser form of painting or something that would run next to a story on rising crime rates.
Through Oct. 25th
It is hard after walking through the show not to think about how much Justine Kurland was associated with the staged photography of the Yale Girls in the 90’s. She has moved a lot artistically and much to her credit. Her last show of train hoppers and the landscapes of America were fantastic and from a detractor like myself shockingly good. It is fascinating to see her make such male-centric work. She spent many of her early years dedicated to the portraying a land where men were wiped out and women ran free as young vagabonds through an ever-expansive landscape. I am not sure I like her new pictures of cars and men working on cars, but it has stuck with me. I bought the catalogue, so I don’t dislike it, but I feel at times the work is formally a little awkward, as if Kurland isn’t yet comfortable in the confined space of working class urban locations. Her strongest formal pictures in the show come when she can get some height, and the cities unravel a little more, like the natural landscapes she has photographed up until now.
Jerry Saltz did say of Kurland, “The work is a mysterious portrait of maleness in the face of the end of an era of mechanical things.” (Vulture 9/10/14) I love Jerry, but to me, the work feels very broad, almost a comically simplistic portrayal of masculinity, which was always my issue with her pictures of young women in the landscape. Women as free spirits in the land seems as juvenile an understanding of gender as men as greasy, weathered mechanics. But I as I recall, her women were also on the greasy side, so maybe there is a little more to the work than I am giving her credit for. The show is also a wide-ranging mix of styles and subjects loosely tied to a topic, which is the style du jour these days. But it lacks both the eclecticism of Etheridge and the quality of images of Christian Patterson, and with the working class nature of the work, it is hard not to think of the more compelling Blisner, IL series by Daniel Shea. But that being said, it is hard not to like pictures of a person holding out a piece of a tooth, a child abandoned in a car seat, or the god’s eye view of two men toiling in empty parking lot on a late-model American car.
Through Oct. 11th
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Ben McNutt, Matte #24
Andrew Kuo, The Smiths T-Shirt