Abstraction @Gitterman

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing 30 black and white and color photographs by 20 different photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the reception area.

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view, their processes, dates, and dimensions as background:

  • Minor White: 1 gelatin silver print, 1950, roughly 7×4 inches
  • Aaron Siskind: 1 gelatin silver print, 1948/1957, roughly 14×9 inches
  • Jean Moral: 1 gelatin silver print, 1925, roughly 9×6 inches
  • Henry Holmes Smith: 1 dye transfer print, 1946, roughly 4×6 inches, 1 gelatin silver print, c1950, roughly 14×11 inches
  • Eli Lotar: 1 gelatin silver print, 1929, roughly 8×6 inches
  • Roger Mayne: 1 gelatin silver print, 1954, roughly 10×8 inches
  • Chargesheimer: 2 gelatin silver chemigrams, c1955-1959, 1961, roughly 24×20, 12×16 inches
  • Josef Breitenbach: 2 gelatin silver prints, c 1946-1949, 1949, roughly 14×11 inches each
  • William Larson: 3 gelatin silver prints, 1966-1968, roughly 2×10 inches each
  • Edmund Teske: 1 gelatin silver print, 1967, roughly 14×11 inches
  • Bohumil Šťastný: 1 gelatin silver print, 1947, roughly 12×10 inches
  • Roger Catherineau: 3 gelatin silver prints, 1954, 1957, 1959, roughly 16×12, 14×12 inches
  • Klea McKenna: 1 gelatin silver print, 2015, roughly 40×33 inches
  • Jane Edwards: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1945-1946, roughly 13×17 inches each
  • Herbert Matter: 2 gelatin silver prints, c 1939-1943, roughly 14×11, 7×12 inches
  • Jean Pierre-Sudre: 1 gelatin silver print, c1960-1965, roughly 24×20 inches, 1 toned gelatin silver print, 1970, roughly 11×16 inches
  • Pierre Cordier: 1 gelatin silver chemigram, 1976, roughly 9×7 inches
  • Debbie Fleming Caffery: 1 gelatin silver print, 2003, 17×22 inches
  • Kenneth Josephson: 1 gelatin silver print, 1959, roughly 7×7 inches
  • Machiel Botman: 1 gelatin silver print, 2002, 21×14 inches

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: January is a surprisingly slow month in the art world. In general, collectors just aren’t paying as much attention,  and the combination of the hangover from the holiday season, the cold weather (at least here in New York), and the lack of major fairs and auctions leads to a quiet, doldrums feeling that mirrors that of the sweaty sluggishness of August. As a result, the group show phenomenon of the summertime has begun to leak into the January slot, with many galleries saving their best solo efforts for busier times of the year.

This small scale survey of photographic abstraction is largely drawn from the gallery’s own stable of artists, with a few vintage (mostly mid-20th century) rarities thrown in to keep the mix fresh. Using the stutter step arrangement of the gallery’s walls as an organizing structure, each small space tells part of the abstraction story.

The sequence begins with a pair of works by Minor White and Aaron Siskind, where the cropping of found arrangements (in this case, weathered stone circles and squiggled paint on a wall) creates abstract compositions. Made in the late 1940s and early 1950s, these photographs fit squarely into the larger Abstract Expressionism movement, albeit using a camera to isolate the abstractions rather than creating them with dollops of paint.

The next wall gathers three images from several decades earlier, offering a sampler of abstract approaches. Jean Moral’s multiple exposure photogram from 1925 is a jittering tangle of white lines (and a fragment of film strip), Henry Holmes Smith’s 1946 colored light study captures layers of dots and geometric patterns cast into a constructed space (perhaps with additional exposure layer of purple), and Eli Lotar’s 1929 micrograph of the head of a shrimp narrows in on a boldly serrated edge. Here in this small grouping, abstractions can be created both with a camera and without, using both constructed and discovered subject matter.

This back and forth between processes and approaches continues in the next pairing, where gestural swirls of painterly motion connect the two works. Roger Mayne’s photograph is straight image of shop windows with detailed brushstroke textures, while Chargesheimer’s chemigram achieves a similar visual effect with various chemical treatments.

Around the corner, the female nude form becomes the baseline for various kinds of abstracted figures. Solarization, toning, montage, and even a few photogram effects from Josef Breitenbach, Edmund Teske, Bohumil Stastny, and Roger Catherineau turn bodies and heads into inversions and flares, the lights and darks encouraged to bleed and waver. And William Larson finds disorienting distortion in a different technique, where the camera systematically turns around a posed body, creating elongated multiple images that merge into friezes of curves and angles.

Photograms make up the next section of the show. Breitenbach and Catherineau offer a contrast of forms, one choosing the hard edged geometries of gears and other circular hardware, the other opting for the more organic shapes of spiraling branches and tendrils. And Jane Edwards introduces masking techniques into the mix, allowing various textural materials (chicken wire, mesh, and even a pair of sunglasses) to interweave without overlapping, while Klea McKenna uses raindrops as her subject matter, each tiny drop becoming a distinct circle in a dense swarm.

More chemical experimentation fills up another entire wall. Many of these works (by Smith, Chargesheimer, Jean-Pierre Sudre, Pierre Cordier, and Herbert Matter) start with various chemicals on glass, creating syrupy compositions where watery blobs extend into sparking starbursts. But this is only the beginning of the camera-less improvisation. Examples here include salt crystals, cliché verre, mordançage, and other chemical explorations, resulting in works that go beyond simple gestural motion to include more scientific and naturally ordered forms.

The last works in the show go back to the idea started the exhibit, with straight photographs that drop toward abstraction. And so, this sampler comes full circle, traveling down several different and distinct roads of process-driven photographic abstraction, but ultimately reminding us that abstraction can be found nearly anywhere by an artist who knows how to look for it. This group show isn’t comprehensive in its scope nor does it really show us anything new about photographic abstraction. That said, it’s a well-edited quick review, peppered with thought-provoking examples that lie outside the usual mainstream.

Collector’s POV: The works in this group show are priced as follows:

  • Minor White: $9000
  • Aaron Siskind: $30000
  • Jean Moral: $8500
  • Henry Holmes Smith: $12000 each
  • Eli Lotar: $5000
  • Roger Mayne: $6000
  • Chargesheimer: $16000, $9000
  • Josef Breitenbach: $8500, $12000
  • William Larson: $10000 each
  • Edmund Teske: $9000
  • Bohumil Šťastný: $6000
  • Roger Catherineau: $7000, $6500, $7500
  • Klea McKenna: $8000
  • Jane Edwards: $6500 each
  • Herbert Matter: $8500, $12000
  • Jean Pierre-Sudre: $9500, $7500
  • Pierre Cordier: $8500
  • Debbie Fleming Caffery: $4500
  • Kenneth Josephson: $6000
  • Machiel Botman: $3400

Given the large number of photographers included in the show, we will forego our usual discussion of individual secondary market trends and prices.

Aaron Siskind, Bohumil Šťastný, Chargesheimer, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Edmund Teske, Eli Lotar, Henry Holmes Smith, Herbert Matter, Jane Edwards, Jean Moral, Jean-Pierre Sudre, Josef Breitenbach, Kenneth Josephson, Klea McKenna, Machiel Botman, Minor White, Pierre Cordier, Roger Catherineau, Roger Mayne, William Larson, Gitterman Gallery

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