JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. All of the prints are chromogenic prints, sized 16×20, in editions of 5. The images were taken between 1991 and 1994. A monograph of this body of work (edited by Stephen Gill) was published by Mack Books in 2011 (here), and is available from the gallery for $45. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Bertien van Manen’s images from the former Soviet republics have the intimate feel of family snapshots. They get inside the lives of the subjects, capturing them in quiet, unguarded moments, where the routines of ordinary life give way to small, personal joys. Unassuming and understated, the photographs are deceptively mundane.
And yet, in a handful of these images, there is a glorious and enveloping warmth, made stronger by careful composition. At a summer campsite, young men wander between cloth tents, picnic tables covered with the remnants of meals passed and empty vodka bottles hanging from the trees. In winter, a nighttime snowball fight catches sparkling flash-lit flakes in mid-air. Inside a house, pink leggings hang from the ceiling, flanked by a pair of boots, a green table, and a child wearing a pacifier hung by a string. And in the soft summer evening, a woman gives a man a haircut, bathed in the yellow light across the green pasture. All of these are fleeting moments that might have gone unnoticed, but to van Manen’s eye, they become something altogether more powerful and memorable.
Other images in the show give supporting glimpses of everyday life in this particular time and place: a posed family surrounded by snowbanks, the bright red lipstick favored by the young women, skiing in bikinis and bathing suits, or groups casually hanging out on park benches. They are pictures that capture misjudged details, forgotten gestures, and small interactions, and together, they tell a nuanced story of life in 1990s Russia and its neighbors. All in, these are photographs full of subtleties, telling the other side of a better known story.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $3800 each. Van Manen’s work has little or no secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only viable option for interested collectors at this point.