Thursday, November 28, 2013
The show is made up of some distressed black and white pictures of contemporary young people, as you might expect from pictures that are young and contemporary. They are paired with pictures of cloths, which I assume are curtains, and outright abstract pictures that seem to be the work of a very productive alternative-process class. I first saw Walead Beshty’s photograms at Wallspace back in 2006, and I remember thinking he was clearly onto something different. His description of the work as trying to address photo history without looking like photo history made sense for the large, color, cubist photograms. Around the same time (ok, maybe two years earlier), Saltz was complaining on about the reinstallation of MoMA’s permanent painting collection and how they missed an opportunity to better understand art by including some of the valleys of art history, the trends that didn’t last and the people who made art that was similar to work that became famous. Out of a confluence of these two ideas, I came to see the rise of abstract photography as a mining of untapped veins of art history, things that were lost or discredited, like photo abstractions. I guess what I am trying to get at is this work at one time had a context and a point, but now just feels like people hiding under Roe Ethridge’s rather large umbrella, which makes anything, no matter how oblique or quizzical have value, simply in being contemporary, without aspiring to anything more.
Now there might be something more going on here, but the press release refers to the work as pretty standard alternate-process interventions into the photographs to create larger metaphorical interpretations of the medium, which seem pretty standard for, say, a 70’s copy of Aperture or a sculptures talking about photography, as if its own practitioners have never pondered the materials that make up the medium. Which would all be fine with if the abstractions were attractive, but they have all the appeal of an abstract black and white watercolor or an abstract charcoal drawing minus an appealing surface. Of course this seems to be all the rage, so what do I know?
PS Apparently the work references an early performance piece of some importance, but that was completely lost on me.
Through December 8th
Vietnam The Real War: A Photographic History From The Associated Press & Leo Rubinfien, Beyond the War: Seven Photographs from Southeast Asia, 1984-1987 @ Steven Kasher Gallery
Vernacular pictures do have a shocking way of making history real. Nothing like a line of National Guardsmen firing rifles at Kent State protestors to make you realize how much things have changed. Can’t even process National Guardsman finding a college protest threatening enough to fire upon. For that matter, this entire show is quite a stark contrast to the blood-free domestic coverage of recent American wars. If you can imagine an iconographic picture of the Vietnam War, it is in the show, but is this art? I would for the most part say no, but it is wonderful how Henri Huet and Horst Faas use a celebratory sense of light to transform battlefield scenes into something more contradictory. Which should negate any real claim that pictures are just documents that express something factual.
I enjoy Leo Rubenfin’s pictures, but after seeing a giant collection of very terrible things happening, his landscapes and still-lifes of a post war Vietnam seem downright trivial.
Through November 30th
Not sure I liked Cobi’s photographs of multiples of himself in the landscapes doing stuff. I always felt Anthony Goicolea had that covered and that using photoshopped multiples to express gender / sex roles in society became a clichéed metaphor almost instantaneously. But now that the photographs are photo-realistic paintings, I must say the fantasy aspect is much more digestible. I expect something different from paintings, and the bending of reality seems like a basic element in the medium instead of a very dubious choice in creating imagery. My understanding is the work is supposed to reference Hudson River School paintings, and it could be a second since I’ve been to the National Gallery of Art and seen a bunch of it. But I do remember a more fantastic version of the land than appears in Cobi’s paintings. It would seem like a natural progression in the work to incorporate some of the more exaggerated tendencies of the Hudson River School painters when dealing with a painting of multiples of yourself, but again, what do I know?
I really like Conor Backman. His book of 501 tumblr pages with his painting on it or his exhibition as an IKEA catalog was brilliant, even his last show in Baltimore at Nudashank with the installation of grape-drink cans, which felt like an investigation of cultural objects with a little edge, it felt like the joke might just be on the viewer. There was a punk rockness to it. The show at Mixed Green was good, and I recommended it to a bunch of people, but the show comes off more like contemporary tromope lóeil than a dude pranking the viewer. I want the work to hit me in the gut more than impress me with the artist’s ability to reproduce junk mail by hand or making a realistic oil painting of a watercolor palette. Skill is a lot less compelling than emotion. At Nudashank, there was work like a shower curtain assemblage that just didn’t work and fell completely flat, but it added an air that the work was in the process of being figured out, not just by the viewer but by the artist giving the show an energy and a life that seems to be a lot more taped down an organized at Mixed Greens where the work is organized around contemporary tromope lóeil, which is the dullest common denominator in the work.
Some rather lovely photographs of flaming landscapes with the occasional shot of the stars and what I assumed was a blown-out picture of the Wailing Wall. Apparently it is about farming in Japan and the burning of brush, I guess to get ready for planting. Honestly, I don’t think the subject of the pictures matters for the most part. Being confronted by some cryptic pictures of fire, smoke, nature, stars what looked liked the Wailing Wall, I just assumed we were dealing with something biblical. Now again the show is about framing in Japan, but I think the pictures are good enough to carry my biblical interpretation, and who doesn’t like pictures of fire?
Sunday, November 24, 2013
I might have officially become old. I don’t get the Lucas Blalock. I know the kids (and The New York Times) like him, but I am really at a loss for what is going in his show. There is a string of rather underwhelming and awkward still-lifes, pictures with intentionally sloppy photoshop work and a picture behind a fake wall that is only visible through the front window. Actually I liked the fake wall and hidden picture. It was the physical version of an easter egg (as in hidden digital content, not the ones from Easter). But the rest I just don’t understand, and what worries me is, I imagine the blank indifference I have for Blalock is the feeling that older people have when they see Roe Ethridge’s work. For instance, Ethridge has done awkward still-lifes of what I always suspected was his studio space, and in Le Luxe he had screen captures of his pictures being edited in photoshop. I am unresolved, when it comes to the screen grabs, but for a man whose work has always pushed the limit of when something stopped being vernacular and started becoming art, the screen grabs seemed to be the possible breaking point, where yes, I as a fan am not sure this is art. But more importantly, the screen grabs and the occasional awkward still-lifes were buttressed in Ethridge’s work with a slew of really attractive pictures, which is where for me Blalock’s work falls apart. Maybe the intentionally bad photoshop pushes the limits of what an art photograph can be and highlights the now hackneyed point that photographs are always a construction (be it technical or cultural). When you come down to it, none of Blalock’s pictures are terrible engaging. They’re often just clunky and ill-formed. Now is this some attempt to challenge an older generation of art fans? Or is this a less skilled extension of a line of thought that Ethridge started almost a decade ago?
Yeah, a surprisingly decent show of large-format straight photographs of national parks on view at Front Room. I am still amazed whenever a solo show of straightforward photography shows up in Brooklyn. Again not the most exciting work, but there are some very nice moments where the pictures go from expected landscapes to odd little images like the awkward middle age man standing in a roadrunner-esque western landscape, or magical like the scale of native American ruins in the side of cliff or the improbable ramshackle walkway leading to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately too many of the pictures fall into an uncomfortable space between the deadpan gaze of the New Topographics and the romanticism of Ansel Adams. I almost suspect that Winograde prefers the latter, but was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the settings. But again, it’s great to see photography getting its due in Brooklyn and satisfying to see work that is respectable, as opposed to the photography as sculpture that makes it into the occasional Brooklyn group show or the young naked people of Fuchs Projects. By comparison, the show is downright spectacular.
An odd little group show at Field Projects, which describes a lot of what I’ve seen there. Like many smaller, often Brooklyn-based art spaces, Field Projects puts on lots of group shows, and they are often a little mixed. Where without fail, there are something I don’t like, but more times than not, I walk out a little perplexed with work form the show stuck in my head. That might not sound completely complimentary, but I am not sure what else you can hope for from a group show than to walk away thinking about the art. Four Lives is no different. I wasn’t that into Eileen Maxon‘s video of young people defining irony. On paper that sounds enjoyable, but in execution I found it not terribly articulate nor the people necessarily engaging in their answers. Also I was just annoyed to find I completely missed the overt Reality Bites reference. But I loved Julia Sherman‘s video of what appears to be an emaciated old woman, a former beauty queen, who has fallen on hard times, reenacting her former glory in a dilapidated room. In the video, the woman wanders around a darkened room, which is paired with vintage footage of a younger woman winning a beauty contest. Each woman beautifully mimes the movements of the other. It’s a simple and straightforward comparison, where age is always mildly tragic, but when you attach your identity to your physical appearance, age becomes tragic on a more Greek chorus kind of level. It is a strong and effective video that leads nicely into Gina Dawson’s watercolor portraits of her family sequenced in the order of their suspected deaths (apparently the dog doesn’t have long to live). In a macabre almost Anne Rice-ish touch, the work is overrun by little ivy leaves made from paper. There is also a droopy sign announcing that everything will be all right, which sadly announces that everything will certainly not be okay, especially apparently for her dog. Courtney Childress’s nice table supported by magazines combined well with the decorum of the aging beauty queen’s room. The irony video still seemed a little unresolved in a show with an aging beauty queen and a dying family, but the show certainly left me thinking about mortality and people dying and what good art that makes.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
It’s like Frank Stella designed a back room at Max’s Kansas City to sell coke out of. It’s a hell of an installation that completely transforms the gallery into a colorfully sleazy wonderland.
Maybe photographs of splattering paint? But they are so photoshopped, I have a really hard time telling if they are photographs or not. The work is just decorative, and by decorative, I mean if you have say, a large black leather sectional it might work for you. The press release describes the work as being in the scientific tradition of Muybridge, and the paint is being photographed at high speeds as it bounces off of speakers playing famous songs. Still looks empty and decorative to me.