Monday, June 10, 2013

Chris Verene and Tom Sullens @ Valentine Gallery

So the long standing and much respected Valentine Gallery puts on a two-person photography show featuring Chris “2000 Whitney Biennial, work in the permanent collection of MoMA, and the Met” Verene. And what is the response… deafening silence. Talked to everyone all month. Hey, seen the Chris Verene show at Valentine? Seen the new show at Valentine? Hey, if you haven’t stopped by Valentine, you should see the Chris Verene show… and nothing. No one seems to have noticed. Well, fuck, I did. Verene is easily the biggest photography name to have a show in Bushwick (ok technically Ridgewood), and I am psyched. Fred Valentine is rad, and hopefully there will be more quality photography in Bushwick, because I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any more galleries in Chelsea (who again has been great to photography). Since people seem to be in the dark, here goes.

While not doing makeovers in drag or performing as an escape artist, Chris Verene makes straightforward and touching pictures about working-class America. Creating images that manage to be endearing as well as critical, he achieves an intimacy with the subject matter that feels lived and not exploitive. His subjects seem at ease with him and his camera, and viewers get a window into a part of America that is expanding in population and in indifference by the government and, for that matter, by Americans living more comfortably above the poverty line.

Verene is paired with Tom Sullens, whose landscapes of aging industrial sites are striking but at times rely too heavily on long exposures. As Tod Papageorge once said, long exposures at night are like shooting fish in a barrel. And it’s true. most things photographed at night are instantaneously become transformed into something otherworldly, because long exposures create a reality very different from how our eyes perceive darkness. Granted, it makes things picturesque, but the repeated use of it does diminishes the effect and makes the pictures less about the death of American industry and more about how pretty the camera can make things. That being said, I very much enjoyed Sullens’s pictures of what I am guessing are ne’er-do-wells and rogues in 1980’s Time Square, mostly shot at night or in the last grasp of the days light. It didn’t hurt that the pictures were displayed in Valentine’s long, dark side  hallway.

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