Abelardo Morell: Some Recent Pictures @Edwynn Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 large scale color and black and white photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against cream colored walls in the entry area, the main gallery space, and the smaller side room. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2013 and 2014. Physical sizes range from roughly 30×19 to 49×60 (or reverse), and the prints are alternately available in editions of 5, 6, 8, and 10. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: In a time when one-after-the-other serial production of bodies of work has become the dominant mode in the art world, Abelardo Morell’s ongoing parallel processing of multiple different lines of photographic thinking is quietly and perhaps defiantly contrarian. While others methodically start and finish each new project, moving forward step by incremental step, Morell is the photographic equivalent of a carnival acrobat with spinning plates on sticks, each one humming along until it slows and needs a quick spark of renewed attention. This show of recent work provides updates on a handful of discrete projects, some of which he’s been successfully working on for decades, others that he’s just begun. Following his photographic career is a little like keeping half a dozen novels on your bedside table and picking them up intermittently to read a few pages; all the stories are moving forward simultaneously, so you have to pay close multi-tasking attention to keep the new developments straight.

Morell is probably best known for his camera obscura images made in hotel rooms and apartments, where the room itself is turned into a camera and the scene outside is projected on the interior wall opposite the windows, sometimes up side down, sometimes right side up, mixing inside and outside in clever ways. New images from this ongoing series capture snowy winter in Central Park and a night view of neon-lit Philadelphia skyscrapers, and a diptych brings the midtown New York skyline in late afternoon (silhouetted) and early morning (in crisp detail) into a room with two mysteriously closed doors, both glowing around the edges. Faster exposures bring texture to the sky, with wisps of clouds drifting across the expanse of blue.

Morell’s ingenious tent camera (first seen in 2010, here) is a riff on his original camera obscura series, but now the image is projected onto the ground beneath the tent itself, mixing the external landscape with the surface below. The two new works in this series are particularly well matched, with the tiny rock fragments in the paved road mixing with a snow scene in Yellowstone and the cracked red dirt and rubber home plate of Wrigley Field in Chicago becoming the backdrop for a view of the outfield and scoreboard.

When Morell moves back into the studio, the pared down environment of the still life offers him an entirely different set of technical challenges. Towers of textural paper stacks rise into shifting columns or become smoothed out into facial profiles, the tonal values between black and white managed with expert subtlety. A new series of humble paper bags expands on this interest in the tactile qualities of paper (and in the nuances of how light interacts with that paper), turning the crumpled containers into something altogether sculptural; aside from their rough surfaces, they have a distinct physical presence and power, almost as if they have been made out of clay.

If these diverse projects hadn’t already certified Morell’s status as a photographic polymath, he’s also included two additional works that are even more boldly experimental. In one, he plays with trompe l’oeil rephotography; starting with a printed image of a green forest, he then roughly cuts the image open to reveal a real forest in the background, the two sets of leafy greenery intermingling with puzzlingly satisfying dissonance. In another, he builds a bursting bouquet of flowers up from hundreds of digital fragments, piecing the blooms together into an impossible shifting mass. Clearly, Morell continues to aggressively explore the expanding boundaries of the medium, and he’s doing so with the relentless curiosity of someone who’s not done testing and reinventing himself.

If there is anything that ties this smorgasbord of imagery together, it is a consistent respect for craft. Regardless of whether he is working in color or black and white, is outside capturing a landscape or inside setting up a still life, Morell applies the same technical persistence; these are dependably well made pictures, simultaneously aware of the history of the medium and unafraid of expanding on that tradition to enable new ways of seeing.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $16000 and $36000 based on size. Morell’s work has become consistently available in the secondary markets in recent years, with prices at auction ranging between roughly $2000 and $17000.

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