JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the entry area. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2019 and 2023. Physical sizes range from roughly 22×16 to 79×59 inches, and all of the works are available in editions of 6+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Annette Kelm’s recent floral still lifes continue to deepen her cooly rigorous sense of refined disruption. In her previous 2018 gallery show (reviewed here), Kelm pushed hard on the elegantly dissonant juxtaposition of nature and technology, mixing sculptural floral stems with a range of man made objects, many of these items taking the place of vases or vessels we might normally expect to hold a bouquet. Not only was she deliberately upending our placid expectations for the genre, she was rethinking traditional compositional balance and freighting the arrangements with implicit ideas about commerce, beauty, and the definition of art.
Kelm’s new florals build on this base and extend her process of tightening down and remixing the essentials. The single work hung in the reception area of the gallery provides a succinct introduction to her evolving approach. “Coxcomb Red” features three red blossoms of two different varieties in an unbalanced cluster. The three stems are set in a metal spring, the circular swirl of the metal contrasting with the straight lines of the stems. This spring couldn’t possibly hold water, so this setup is inherently temporary, transient, stylized, or altogether dysfunctional. Kelm has then placed this arrangement in a two-toned green space, with a horizon line placed near the top of the spring. The image is a symphony of lush greens, boldly punctuated by the red blossoms (the opposite of the greens on the color wheel) and by the interruption of the machined industrial form of the spring.
The other still life florals in the show take these elements and riff on them in different ways, each resulting compositions taking Kelm’s ideas a few steps further along one vector or another. The metal spring base returns in “Laceleave (Shadow)”, this time in a darker metal and perplexingly set in a stemmed glass dish. The two leaves sway upward with simple natural grace, and Kelm has dropped the horizon line much lower, making the expansive blue backdrop seem that much taller and more enveloping. Set in bright pure light, the two stems cast fuzzy dark shadows on the backdrop, like clouds in a reversed sky. In “Diamond Mirror”, there are actually no flowers included in the still life arrangement at all, and the “vase” has been replaced by a silver bathroom mirror facing upward, which supports a grey pyramidal shaped form. In this instance, Kelm’s cheery pastel background in light pink and blue has a high horizon that lines up with the base of the diamond, making its upward pointing direction seem more intimately constrained, and the underneath curve of the mirror base creates a sense of geometric balance.
The setting of Kelm’s still lifes starts to break down in several other images. In “Angel Wings/Gaiskraut”, not only does the silvery leafed plant have an additional leaf made from the curved corner of a newspaper, the soft gradient backdrop (now without any identifiable horizon) is crumpled, torn, and off-kilter, revealing an edge of the studio wall behind. And in “Sumach/Essigbaum”, the sumach leaves explode in all directions, obscuring any vase underneath and disrupting the idea that there is a bottom or top to the arrangement, and the gradient backdrop has now fallen behind the studio table, with a sliver of the larger room visible on the edge, breaking the illusion of meticulous control.
The strongest of Kelm’s new florals is “Allium (Together)”, as it brings together a number of the disruptions she has been testing out in other pictures. A handful of puffy light purple allium blossoms form the central subject, each ball on a long stem; the stems have been arranged in yet another spring, this time with the stems jutting out at skew angles, fully breaking down the idea that the spring is functioning as something like a vase. The backdrop is mostly a bright lemon yellow, but on the left side of the setup, the yellow paper has been replaced by two roughly hung up blue rectangles, one of which drapes down over the edge of the table top, further disrupting the spatial dynamics. Another small copper spring adds another spiral-shaped visual echo in the foreground, and all of these details ultimately come together in a surprisingly dynamic and sophisticated composition, which never quite resolves into the kind of easy balance we might be expecting.
In addition to the florals, this show also includes two other bodies of work that play with related compositional iterations. One group of pictures documents an unlikely row of travertine columns found near a recycling plant. Originally commissioned in the 1930s as part of an unrealized monument to Benito Mussolini, they now stand overshadowed by a modern industrial facility. Kelm circles the columns, capturing them from a variety of angles and distances, arranging each of the landscapes with the same juxtapositional care as her floral still lifes. One image sets the tiny columns near the massive vertical of a smokestack; another veils them using nearby weeds and greenery; a third shows us an anachronistic pairing of cars parked near the columns; and a fourth arranges the scene with Becher-style precision, balancing the geometric forms of the plant, a dirt pile, and the repetitions of the columns. The other set of pictures uses a jean jacket as a kind of spatial template, arranging various issue-driven buttons in an ever-changing personal statement of identity and association. Most of the images feature just a single button – like “End Racism” or “Keep Abortion Legal” – forcing us to notice both the particular placement of the message against its backdrop, and what it might tell us about its wearer. One other image in the series features nearly a dozen buttons on one jacket, the messages becoming a layered cacophony of imperatives and exhortations.
The measured distance in Kelm’s work forces us into a more intellectual relationship with her compositions – as seen from a New York vantage point, their European reserve urges us to think them through rather than to respond to them with more American impulsiveness. Kelm’s photographs ask us to notice underlying systems and relationships, and to consider the nature and purpose of her own interventions and constructions. A Kelm show typically leaves us ruminating over the structure of photographic (or visual) representation, and this one hits that same mark with understated efficiency.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between €8000 and €28000 based on size. 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.