Amy Finkelstein, If Only @Elizabeth Houston

JTF (just the facts): A total of 5 color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the small downstairs gallery space. All of the works are c-prints (from 8×10 negatives), made in 2017 or 2018. Physical sizes range from 25×34 to 56×37 inches (or reverse), and all of the prints are available in editions of 5. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Amy Finkelstein’s brand of photographic abstraction falls into the “constructed” subspecies of the genre, even though she isn’t building three-dimensional settings to be photographed or exploring the optical oddness of light cast into a controlled space.

Her works are resolutely two dimensional and fully analog, her compositions built on transparent drafting film that is then photographed and enlarged, without the aid of additional post-production tweaking. The resulting images use strips of tape to generate the hard edges of geometric structure and washes of India ink to generate more organic forms that feel loose and painterly, like petri dish experiments left to run wild. The combined aesthetic oscillates back and forth, never quite allowing the viewer to settle into a sense of visual resolution.

Several of the works use insistent verticals as their dominant motif. Single tape strips in red and yellow recall Barnett Newman’s bold zips, as does the spatial balance exercises that take place between a lone thick strip and thinner verticals situated farther away. These primary colored lines are set against a backdrop of watery monochrome black, creating a rich contrast of textures. The darkness ranges from cloudy indeterminate murkiness to more splashing gestural washes, and in one work, the ink seems to have begun to coalesce, with feathery forms like tree branches or creeping decay evoked by the splotchy ink.

Finkelstein then takes these aesthetic ideas and encourages them to go further. The tape verticals are expanded into a parade of stripes in varying widths (some of them now partially transparent), the array turned into a plaid by a weave of horizontals. One work experiments with incremental reductions in size from left to right (the strips getting thinner and more tightly spaced as they march across the surface), while another allows the interlocking latticework to become more gridlike, creating an echo of the jazzy primary-colored energy of Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. The ink washes behind the geometries have also become more complex, with puddles encroaching on the surface of the lines and perhaps dirt or other small natural debris added to the mix to create more variations of blotted form.

Where Finkelstein diverges from the crowd of rigid abstractionists is in her willingness to embrace uncertainty and messiness. Her lines and grids search for systematized rigor and order, but are balanced by the gloppy improvisation of nature, which never allows those strict impulses to win out. Austere geometric precision is undermined by earthy expression, revealing it to be a set of rules imperfectly imposed on a roiling and often uncooperative undercarriage. It is this compositional tension that gives Finkelstein’s works their spark – her photographic abstractions revel in the details of their layered processes, but consciously force those competing aesthetics and approaches into an unending battle.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $3500 or $4000, based on size. Finkelstein’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): A retrospective exhibition, hung against white and black walls, in a series of three connected spaces (and their exterior walls) on the museum’s main floor. The ... Read on.

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