B. Ingrid Olson, Kiss the architect on the mouth @Simone Subal

JTF (just the facts): A total of 6 photographic works, displayed against white walls in the divided gallery space. All of the works are made from UV printed MDF, PVA size, gesso, Plexiglas, and screws, executed in 2018. Physical sizes range from roughly 16x24x6 to 31x21x7 inches (or reverse), and all of the photographic works are unique. The show also includes 7 sculptural works, in various materials, also from 2018. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: One of the inherent features of the medium of photography is how spatial depth is uniquely handled by a camera. Given the way space is flattened by a lens, even when a photographer composes a scene in which space extends far and wide, the resulting image is automatically reduced to a two dimensional plane, the depth effectively collapsed back onto itself. Of course, lines of perspective and other optical distortions help us understand what we are seeing, but the representation of complex space (and deliberate illusions and transformations of that very same space) will always be open areas of robust photographic experimentation.

B. Ingrid Olson has spent much of her early artistic career trying find innovative ways to think herself out of this spatial box. In Olson’s 2015 gallery show (in this same space, reviewed here), she displayed her images matted, and then printed additional imagery on the matboards themselves, creating a two-level layering of pictures. It was an inventive solution to the limitations of a single photograph displayed in a frame, and opened up some new artistic white space for her to explore via the telescoping of nested images.

In her newest works, the matboards are gone, her central photographs now surrounded by Plexiglas walls. At six or seven inches in depth, the thick clear plastic creates the feeling of a deep box, with the image at the “bottom” as though inside a tunnel. Down inside these constraining wells, Olson’s images struggle to reach up and out, forcing us to get in closer, with our peripheral vision partially closed off. These sculptural forms offer echoes of Donald Judd’s wall-mounted geometries, but with the minimalism of elemental form enhanced by complex perception-challenging photographs that seem to bounce around inside their constrained environments.

Many of Olson’s made-in-the-studio photographs play with the unexpected reflections to be found when looking directly down at a mirror. We see her (presumably it is the artist herself) standing on the mirror, straddling it, kneeling on it, and looking down from her waist, sometimes with addition of a second mirror to further complicate and reorient the reflections. Glare from the flash, fragments of furniture, and other everyday props enter her visual kaleidoscope, the set-up leading to bouncing light, angled doubling, and deliberate disorientation. And all of this is done with a sense of informal, imperfect experimentation, with dirty fingerprints on the mirror, objects pushed to blur, and light creating wash outs and flares.

The combination of Olson’s intentional mirrored distortions and the rigid boxes of Plexiglas that surround them leads to works that feel carefully constructed to confuse. They are at once divided and claustrophobic, their tightness channeling us inward, where we are confronted with perplexing images that rebound back up at us. Inside the closed environment of the boxes, Olson’s photographs seem to take on three dimensional qualities, their flatness filling the available space.

While this kind of indeterminate spatial experimentation has long been the playground of artists like Barbara Kasten, Olson’s works reintroduce the female form of the artist herself into the construction equation. This moves her results out from the arena of meticulously controlled abstraction and illusionism and into the realm of performance, where the photographer’s actions (and the distortions of cameras and mirrors) form the primary subject matter for her inventions.

So instead of feeling aloof and conceptually arm’s length, Olson’s spatial studies retain a personal touch, and this is where she may have found even more unexplored artistic territory to carve out. We see her working, touching, moving, and participating in this artmaking, and that agency gives her constructions an invigorating splash of vitality.

Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show are priced between $7500 and $9000, with some already sold. Olson’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: B. Ingrid Olson, Simone Subal Gallery

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