Charles Traub, Object of My Creation @Gitterman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 29 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung in the main and front spaces on the ground floor. All of the prints on view are vintage gelatin silver prints from the period between 1967 and 1972. Dimensions were not available, but most are small square format, perhaps roughly 6×6; the nature studies in the front room are slightly larger, more like 10×12. A hardbound catalogue of the exhibition is available from the gallery for $25. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: It takes some courage for a successful photographer/teacher like Charles Traub to dig back into his storage boxes and unearth his work from college and graduate school for a new show. Rather than proof of a singular and original vision born fully formed, it shows Traub under the influence of his many esteemed teachers (Sinsabaugh, Meatyard, Siskind), working to synthesize their lessons (both visual and intellectual) into his own aesthetic vocabulary. The pictures show the evolution of an artist as a work-in-progress, rather than as a finished product.
Traub’s early photographs find him examining the contrasts of doorways and windows, finding hidden geometries, textures and abstractions in the interplay of light and dark. Bright dots on a subway post echo overhead lighting, and the mesh of a chain link fence adds a criss-cross effect to a church courtyard. When outside, natural forms become small sculptural vignettes, and rocks and grass become silhouettes of black against white; images from a year or two later dive into dense thickets of underbrush, often using negative tonalities to unbalance the all-over compositions. In general, these early works are intimate, careful photographs, focused on form rather than narrative, produced with meticulous attention to the quality of the finished prints.
I think these kinds of pictures are emblematic of a certain time period in American photography, where updated but still formal Modernism was forced to come to terms with more inward looking subjective/spiritual work (think Minor White). Students from that time inevitably got doses of both schools of thought, and as a result, often evolved in wholly different or hybrid directions. This show is like opening a time capsule back to that specific point in the late 1960s/early 1970s, led by a guide who was himself in the midst of making sense of it all.

Collector’s POV: All of the prints in this show are priced at either $3500 or $4000. Traub’s work is not widely available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

While I enjoyed many images in this show, my favorite was Illinois, 1969; its on the top left of the middle installation shot. While the broken window is a classic subject, Traub’s version has both the jagged edge and the smooth rectangular forms of adjacent areas of white (contrasted with deep black), next to an unexpected opening at the bottom, showing weeds in the snow; it’s got much more going on compositionally than most dark/light exercises in silhouette and outline.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Review: New Yorker (here)
Charles Traub, Object of My Creation
Through April 23rd
170 East 75th Street
New York, NY 10021

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JTF (just the facts): A retrospective exhibition, hung against white and black walls, in a series of three connected spaces (and their exterior walls) on the museum’s main floor. The ... Read on.

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