Back Grounds: Impressions Photographiques (2) @Andrea Rosen

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing 47 works by 8 different photographers/artists, variously framed and matted, and displayed against white walls in the entry area, the main gallery space, and a smaller back room. The show was organized by Olivier Renaud-Clément.

The following photographers/artists have been included in the exhibit, with print details as background:

  • Chargesheimer: 3 gelatin silver chemigrams, 1961, sized between roughly 12×10 and 16×12, unique
  • Martin d’Orgeval: 5 gelatin silver prints with artist frames, 2014, sized between roughly 13×20 and 32×19 or reverse, in editions of 5+2AP
  • Louis-Adolphe Humbert de Molard: 5 paper negatives, 1848, each sized roughly 7×10 or reverse, unique
  • Liz Deschenes: 1 silver toned black and white photogram, 2014, sized roughly 84×6, unique, and 1 diptych of silver toned black and white photograms, 2014, each part sized roughly 44x7x4, unique
  • Gaylen Gerber: 8 gelatin silver/Ilfachrome prints with charcoal and/or custom Plexiglas frames, 1991-1998, some reframed in 2009, each sized roughly 31×31, no edition information provided, and 1 background paper and aluminum pins, 2014, dimensions variable, in an edition of 6
  • Sherrie Levine: 1 set of 18 Epson inkjet prints, 2006, each sized 19×13, in editions of 12+3AP
  • Alfred Steiglitz: 18 vintage gelatin silver prints, 1923-1934, generally sized roughly 5×4
  • James Welling: 3 unique chemigrams (some with ink), 2014, sized 14×11, unique, 1 toned gelatin silver print, 1992, sized roughly 24×20, in an edition of 3, and 1 graphite and acrylic on rag paper, 2014, sized 14×11, unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: While summer group shows are by some unwritten definition typically light, breezy, and casual, this one at Andrea Rosen opts for a more intellectual, academic tone. It attempts to draw a connecting line through the history of photography linking process-driven abstraction and conceptualism, making the case that we’ve come full circle and that the approaches and mindsets of today’s artists are rooted in the work of the early experimentalists. While this show does connect those dots with jumps from the 19th century to the present, the whole effort feels a bit too self consciously brainy, as if it was trying a little too hard to impress us with its unexpected and serious insights. My conclusion is that while there is an intellectual framework to be followed here, it doesn’t deliver any particular lightning bolts, and so it shouldn’t unnecessarily distract viewers from enjoying the handful of terrific works on display.

The show begins with a handful of 19th century negative prints of Normandy Castle (shown in lightboxes) made by Louis-Adolphe Humbert de Molard. De Molard was first and foremost an experimenter and a chemist, and his use of various toning baths and chemical washes to add drama to the rocky outcroppings and battlements of the castle is the hook on which this show really hangs. It’s a reminder that early photography involved a lot of process innovation, each image an integrated alchemical mixing of the science of the techniques and the subject matter being captured.

This chemistry thread is then tied to 1960s chemical abstractions by Chargesheimer and ultimately to contemporary works by James Welling and Liz Deschenes. The Chargesheimer chemigrams are bold and gestural, combining white, brown, and black toning into electric all over compositions. Welling’s recent abstractions are more shadowy and subtle, using wet drips and washes like layered scrims. And Deschenes takes process nuance to its logical extreme, turning her prints into minimalist objects with engrossing up close surface gradations. Seen as a continuum, it’s a chemistry driven movement from representation to complete abstraction, with intermediate stops employing varying degrees of energetic expressiveness.

A second intellectual vector starts again with de Molard’s prints and heads instead toward an investigation of foreground/background dichotomies and abstractions. His tumbled rocks and inversions of sky and land lead to Alfred Stieglitz’ masterful cloud study Equivalents and on to more recent interpretations by Sherrie Levine and Martin D’Orgeval. A room dividing paper intervention by Gaylen Gerber makes this two sided  “back ground” premise explicit, but doesn’t deliver much beyond the obvious. Instead, it’s the Stieglitz/Levine pairing that is the real star of this show. Set as two groups of 18 prints, the ethereal Stieglitz cloud abstractions are transformed by Levine into an array of unrecognizable pixelated forms, taken one step further in terms of conceptual dissolution. It’s not often that any of us sees so many Equivalents outside of a museum, and the push and pull of Stieglitz’ approach with the anonymous Levine grid hung nearby is very smart. D’Orgeval tries to get into the visual discussion with a few found abstractions of painted walls and marble tops, but these works can’t really compete in any way with what Stieglitz/Levine have to offer.

All in, this show’s internal logic does provide a scaffolding for thinking about how (and perhaps why) contemporary photographers are returning to process centrism. These ideas are delivered with bit more overworked intellectualism than is altogether necessary, but this doesn’t diminish the nuggets of real interest to be found here.

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

  • Chargesheimer: $8500 each
  • Martin d’Orgeval: $6500 each
  • Louis-Adolphe Humbert de Molard: $20000 each
  • Liz Deschenes: $75000 or $100000 (diptych)
  • Gaylen Gerber: $25000 each
  • Sherrie Levine: NFS
  • Alfred Steiglitz: NFS
  • James Welling: $6000 or $12000

Alfred Stieglitz, Chargesheimer, Gaylen Gerber, James Welling, Liz Deschenes, Louis-Adolphe Humbert de Molard, Martin d'Orgeval, Sherrie Levine, Andrea Rosen Gallery

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