Saturday, August 24, 2013

Michele Abeles, "English for Secretaries" @ 47 Canal St.

If Katherine Wolkoff is trying to do as little as possible in a photograph and still make sense, as in her show at Sasha Wolf, then Michele Abeles is doing as much as she can in a picture before it completely implodes. I have for a long time been so-so on Abeles’s work. In PS1’s greater NY show, I was indifferent to her random pairings of pictures that owed way too much to Roe Ethridge for my liking. I had a similar reaction to her recent over-worked nudes / still life studies from MoMA’s New Photography show that felt like Daniel Gordon but less challenging while wallowing in a certain “is this a real space or is it photoshop?” shtick. But despite my lack of enthusiasm, the work stayed with me and always felt on some level challenging and worth reckoning with.

I think in English for Secretaries her work really starts to pay off. The pictures have become so over-worked that they devolve into abstraction, and at last, as a viewer it has become much easier for a viewer to address her work as collage rather than photography (in the narrower sense). This shift allows for a change of expectation in her work, where color choices seem more important than a need to make sense seem. Abeles’s rather garish teal and pink color palate brings to mind an unfortunate remodeling job in early 80’s Miami and ties the work together better than the scraps of recognizable subject matter in the MoMA show: a man’s torso, silhouettes of palm trees and chains. For my money, she has done what photography has been unable to do for the last 100 plus years, which is, make compelling photo abstractions. Of course, one can harp on the photo vs. collage aspect of the work, but come on, grow up already. The most representational images were a slightly collaged picture with a woman out of a high-end, rap-themed fashion shoot and a cat on an afghan rug in a very green yard. Both images suggest a certain hipness, where people who walk out of American Apparel ads to go swimming at Rockaway Beach and then go home to organically farm their backyards with their cats and occasionally make very attractive abstract photographs.

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