Back @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of 24 different photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against pink, grey, and white walls in the two room divided gallery space and the entry area.

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view, their processes, and dates as background:

  • Adou: 1 gelatin silver print, 2006
  • Richard Benson: 1 multiple impression pigment print, 2006
  • Harry Callahan: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1949
  • Robert Frank: 1 gelatin silver print, 1955/1970s
  • Lee Friedlander: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1966/later, 1977/2007
  • Jim Goldberg: 1 vintage gelatin silver print, 1989
  • David Goldblatt: 1 gelatin silver print, 1975/2010
  • Emmet Gowin: 1 toned gelatin silver print, 1967/1996
  • Paul Graham: 1 pigment print mounted to Dibond, 1997
  • Hai Bo: 2 gelatin silver prints mounted to Plexiglas, 2008
  • Hiro: 1 pigment print, 1985/2013
  • Peter Hujar: 1 digital pigment print, 1981/2009
  • Jocelyn Lee: 1 pigment print mounted on Dibond, 2009/2015
  • Nicholas Nixon: 1 gelatin silver contact print, 1997/2015
  • Tod Papageorge: 1 gelatin silver print, 1979
  • Susan Paulsen: 1 pigment print, 2014
  • Paolo Roversi: 1 pigment print, 2009/2015
  • Lucas Samaras: 4 Polaroid SX-70 photographs, 1974
  • Viviane Sassen: 1 pigment print mounted to board, 2010, 2 chromogenic prints, 2005, 2012
  • Fazal Sheikh: 1 carbon pigment print on handmade Innova Smooth Cotton Natural White paper, 2007
  • Unknown: 1 gelatin silver print, n.d. (from the collection of Robert E. Jackson)
  • William Wegman: 1 set of 3 Ektacolor prints, 1981/1982
  • Henry Wessel: 2 vintage gelatin silver prints, 1973, 1986
  • Garry Winogrand: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1960, 1973/1970s

(Installation shots below, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery.)

Comments/Context: Unlike the upfront directness of a normal portrait, a turned back is something of an alluring mystery. By its very nature, it is a rejection – we’ve been literally disregarded, turned away, abstracted, unnoticed, or otherwise forgotten. The view from the back is also decidedly one-way – we can look, we can observe, but we generally can’t interact; the open two-way conversation we’re used to in a frontal view is closed off, our usual visual contract broken by the distance (both physical and psychological). In back portraiture, and back photography more broadly, we can’t easily get involved, and that overt frustration is part of its magic.

It’s summer, so ’tis the season to gather up a bunch of pictures from the gallery stable artists and toss them on the walls, and if we’re honest, the organization of this summer group show isn’t much different from that typical model. But a subject matter-centric theme like backs allows a variety of artistic perspectives to happily coexist and compete, and this selection of pictures covers a wide variety of bases – a back can be a nude, a fashion shot, a portrait (or self-portrait), a documentary image, a street photograph, or even an animal (or two).

While this is ostensibly a show of gallery artists, interloper Viviane Sassen has been given prominent placement, with three images included and two boldly displayed on the front title wall. Her disorienting compositions bring brash contemporary energy to the chosen topic, and provide a fresh hook for the others to hang from. In many ways, the back is a repository for subtle gesture, and some of the best images in the show force us to pay attention to those nuances of form. The suited man with his hand on his hip from Henry Wessel, Eleanor’s alternate leg angles from Harry Callahan, the clasped hands behind the back from Hai Bo, the slumped hunch on the deck from Richard Benson – they all tells us volumes with a minimum of movement. And the turn of a shoulder is used by both Hiro and Paolo Roversi as something seductive, while Paul Graham and Fazal Sheikh give it a softer and more intimate feel, like a shared secret.

Several of the back images here revel in luscious texture, drawing us in even closer. The pairing of Edith’s knot of hair and scratchy sweater by Emmet Gowin and the sweat stained plaid jacket and spiky mown grass by David Goldblatt is particularly inspired. Tiny hairs grace the back of a neck by Nicholas Nixon and a baby’s skin becomes almost luminous in the hands of Susan Paulsen. And the clever duo of Peter Hujar and Jocelyn Lee provides some visual comic relief – the feathered back of a goose in a muddy field connected to the shivering goosebumps of a girl in the water.

While a classic back from Dorothea Lange or Malick Sidibé might have added some heft to the overall thematic argument being made here and I’m surprised there wasn’t a worthy Irving Penn back hiding in the closet somewhere, this core sample through the storage boxes delivers enough viewpoints and approaches to keep things lively. The back is an underappreciated subgenre of portraiture, and this crisply edited summer group show does well to remind us of its persistent charms.

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

  • Adou: $4000
  • Richard Benson: $7500
  • Harry Callahan: $20000 each
  • Robert Frank: $50000
  • Lee Friedlander: $12500, $9500
  • Jim Goldberg: $12500
  • David Goldblatt: $8500
  • Emmet Gowin: $12000
  • Paul Graham: $50000
  • Hai Bo: $75000
  • Hiro: $20000
  • Peter Hujar: $10000
  • Jocelyn Lee: $2000
  • Nicholas Nixon: $4500
  • Tod Papageorge: $7000
  • Susan Paulsen: $2500
  • Paolo Roversi: $15000
  • Lucas Samaras: $20000 each
  • Viviane Sassen: $5500, $8000, and $10000
  • Fazal Sheikh: $6500
  • Unknown: $1200
  • William Wegman: $35000
  • Henry Wessel: $20000, $25000
  • Garry Winogrand: $7500, NFS

Most of these photographers are represented by Pace/MacGill, and many have a significant secondary market presence.

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Read more about: Adou, David Goldblatt, Emmet Gowin, Fazal Sheikh, Garry Winogrand, Hai Bo, Harry Callahan, Henry Wessel, Hiro (Yasuhiro Wakabayashi), Jim Goldberg, Jocelyn Lee, Lee Friedlander, Lucas Samaras, Nicholas Nixon, Paolo Roversi, Paul Graham, Peter Hujar, Richard Benson, Robert Frank, Susan Paulsen, Tod Papageorge, Viviane Sassen, William Wegman, Pace/MacGill Gallery

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