JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and office area. All of the works are c-prints, made in 2013; while most of the works are single images, the show also includes 1 set of 3 prints and 1 set of 6 prints. Print sizes run from roughly 13×10 to 32×26 (or reverse); the works are available in editions of 5+2AP or 6+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Running concurrently with Annette Kelm’s inclusion in MoMA’s New Photography 2013 survey (here), this show offers a broader sampler of the German photographer’s newest work. It’s a slippery, often frustrating exhibit, one that constantly undermines the viewer’s expectations for how certain kinds of images are supposed to function.
Kelm’s photographs span a variety of seemingly familiar genres, but never quite offer up any identifiable meaning, the obfuscation and visual upending so consistent from image to image that the pictures continually keep us at arms length. Espadrilles and shoe soles are photographed like commercial products (think Roe Ethridge), but are arrayed against wallpaper covered in kitchy LOL!, How R U? and tie dyed patterns. A still life series of folded bandanas and strewn wheat stalks is set up like a formal conceptual typology, but the normal theme and variation comparisons of such a series dissolve into abstraction. A group of portraits of woman holding a pair of leafy branches are different only in the placement of her hands, leaving us wondering about some hidden conceptual framework. And still lifes of piles of metal filings and ivy poking through a black board seem purposely elusive, while grainy landscapes of Shetland ponies and a dove perched in a tree are equally devoid of obvious narrative or context.
In every case, we come to Kelm’s works thinking that certain genres will convey meaning in predetermined ways, but find that her pictures provide us visual clues that knowingly take us in the wrong directions. Another way to think about this is that she is appropriating styles of photography, and then stripping away and undercutting the modes in which each genre normally functions. This is photography about photography at its most cerebral, and many will simply be turned off by its apparent randomness. But I’ll admit to liking Kelm’s tightly controlled disorientations, even though their arcane allusions are very much inside baseball.
Collector’s POV: The single image works in this show are priced between $5800 and $10800, while the set of 3 prints is $24000 and the set of 6 prints is $45000. Kelm’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.