Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jeff Whetstone, Seducing Birds, Snakes, Men @ Julie Saul Gallery

Two weeks in a row both Yancey Richardson and Julie Saul have had good shows. Could it be we are seeing a renaissance in photography-based galleries in Chelsea? Also, what a huge shift in Jeff Whetstone’s work, which has predominately been luscious black and white rural landscapes. 

Like his one time Yale classmate Mark Wyse, it seems that Whetstone has made a concerted effort to work against type and put out odd little shows that tease the viewer with a glimpse of the ease with which he creates large format landscape photographs. His tremendous skill is on display in the stunning color picture of a shot-out piece of board at a shooting range located at the foot of a fantastically beautiful western landscape. 

But in case you get too comfortable admiring his skills, Whetstone has included a lesser black and white picture of another board from a similar locale that informs us the beautiful color photograph is not just a stellar individual image but one in a series of similar pictures whose meaning might hold more complexity (if not less visual enjoyment) than one great image. 

Even more challenging is Whetstone’s turn to film/video and installation where his still pictures of animals caught in buckets return in a film loop of a black snake trying to escape a white bucket, this all being shown by a projector that is dumping the film from projector into a clear plastic tray that a little too cutely mimics the snake and bucket. 

The focus of the show is a video where Whetstone revisits the camouflaged hunters in picturesque landscapes that made up so much of his earlier work. The hunters are now captured sweet-talking birds into clearings with mating calls while they narrate with enthusiasm their potential kill. The video drags on for about 15 minutes, but as the lull of watching long-form video versions of his earlier pictures starts to settle in, the appeal of hunting becomes apparent. The hunters meditatively fuse with the land as they try to communicate with the animals. It seems rather appealing, but a certain realization comes on very quickly once turkeys wander into the frame. 

The turkeys are quickly shot and as a good New Yorker, I felt a little disgusted by it. Once the killing was done, the hunters performed a triumphant dance, which is shown in a grainy zoom of a crime stoppers video that indicates that yes, the artist agrees with us, there is something tasteless about killing birds for sport. Which makes the piece a little easy. I would’ve loved it if Whetstone had gone through with trying to convince urban art fans of the value of hunting. That would have been a more pleasurable gamble than reminding us that hunters are just jocks with guns.

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Julie Saul Gallery (535 W 22nd St 6th Fl. Btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)


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