Daniel Gordon, Free Transform @Kasmin

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two-room gallery space. (Installation  and detail shots below.)

The following works have been included in the show:

  • 1 pigment print with UV lamination, 2023, sized roughly 74×60 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 8 pigment prints with UV lamination, 2023, sized roughly 50×40 inches, in editions of 3+1AP
  • 1 pigment print with UV lamination diptych, 2023, each panel sized roughly 50×40 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 2 pigment prints with UV lamination, 2023, sized roughly 38×30 inches, in editions of 3+1AP
  • 12 mixed media vases, 2023, sized roughly 24×13, 24×10, 23×10, 22×10, 21×14, 21×11, 20×11, 19×16, 18×15 inches, unique

Comments/Context: Daniel Gordon has been making photographic works in the still life genre for more than a dozen years now, and if we stop a moment to process that simple statement, it becomes clearer that such a period is actually a decently long time to continue to boldly innovate within such a constrained artistic sandbox. Fruit, flowers, potted plants, vases, tabletops, and backdrops have offered Gordon a seemingly never-ending supply of reconfigurable options, and since arriving on the photography scene in 2009 (with his inclusion in that year’s New Photography show at MoMA), he has consistently tested the limits of the photographic still life through his experimentation with the possibilities of constructed image objects.

In gallery shows every few years since (in 2018 (reviewed here), 2017 (reviewed here), 2014 (reviewed here), and 2011 (reviewed here)), Gordon has worked his way through various ideas, starting with the initial conceptual insight of physically building up his subject matter with photographs (i.e. a peach isn’t a real peach in Gordon’s world, but a paper object made from photographs of peaches, which is then rephotographed as part of a larger installation of such objects.) From this first foundational insight, he has further leveraged its application in multiple directions, working his way through complex forms of doubling and layering, unexpected color inversions and pairings, deliberately misaligned and distorted shadow play, figure/ground reversals, textural blurring, and perspective flattening, among other approaches. Along the way, he has ventured into both pared down simplicity and densely over-the-top saturated-color visual exuberance, testing the ways in which the photographic still life can be unpacked and reassembled.

As seen in his newest works (and in a new gallery representation relationship with Kasmin), Gordon has seemingly settled into a period of refinement, where the extremes of earlier aesthetic tests and investigations have been consolidated into handsomely sophisticated compositions that find an elemental balance between simplicity and clutter. In many ways, these works don’t try to do too much, but instead allow different visual ideas to play out with a controlled sense of restraint. By giving each separate inversion or reorientation more of a chance to breathe, the formulaic interplay between the elements becomes easier to appreciate, with handfuls of discrete ideas then aggregated into compositions that simmer with graceful friction and dissonance.

When looked at closely, Gordon’s new photographs do seem to conform to a loose formula. The table tops have been flattened into bands of bright color, generally with contrasting colors on the top, edge, and front sides. The backdrops are largely flat color as well (with a few framing edges), except when interrupted by exaggerated or reconsidered shadows, which Gordon turns into outlined forms of contrasting color printed on paper; the ostensible angle of light is often another variable to be played with, with the cast shadows moving around, and in many cases, offering conflicting evidence for where the light source might actually sit. Clusters of smaller fruit and vegetable image objects (plus a couple of lobsters and fish) tend to be placed in front, with a few unexpected color inversions (like a blue pomegranate, a pink apple, a grey pear, and a blue lobster) keeping us off balance. These are then joined by various image objects that represent vases, ceramic pots, and vessels, which are given plausible textural surfaces (albeit blurred or pixelized in some cases), and are often physically doubled, with a second echo of the primary form placed just behind, almost like a visual shimmer; these vase and jug stand-ins then cast their own range of colored shadows on the backdrop. And the largest objects in Gordon’s arrangements represent potted plants, with realistic looking photographic leaves reaching up from abstracted flat color pots, the image objects representing jade, cactus, poppies and peonies (among others) anchoring the compositions with a heady mix of almost real and altogether unreal details.

When all these individual decisions are then aggregated into staged setups, Gordon’s pictures oscillate between familiarity and subversiveness. “Desert Rose and Apples in Red, Green and Pink” is a standout, with its flattened spatial geometries hosting a range of provocations, including wrong-colored apples, doubled vases, and a gloriously bushy set of white shadows. More broadly, these photographs both follow the rules and overtly break them, and this constant back-and-forth creates the uneasy energy that sustains them. Their deliberate not-real awkwardness is perhaps their biggest strength, with Gordon toying with our expectations and pulling the rug out from under us at every turn – essentially every object and structural detail in these pictures has been undermined or reimagined in one way or another, but within the comfortable confines of a visual world we can recognize. Across the history of the genre, particularly in a contemporary context, few photographic still lifes have as much inherent friction as these.

For the first time, this show also includes some of Gordon’s actual image object vases, which are more intricately crafted than they might have appeared in his still life photographs. Made from foamcore and wrapped with paper shards of photographic imagery, the works have a sculpted surface like papier-mâché, but with areas of blur, pixelization, and other photographic artifacts we don’t normally associate with physical objects. These works are far more intriguing that I initially expected, as the photographic “glazes” cover the vessels and vases with unexpectedly perplexing (but lovely) textures. The works seem to open up unexpected pathways of photographic wrapping and construction that Gordon feels uniquely positioned to explore.

After a flurry of image object experimentation by various artists in the late 2000s (in concert with more and more options for digital printing becoming available), the field of image object practitioners has narrowed quite a bit in the subsequent years, with Gordon quietly and methodically cementing his position as a durable innovator. This show feels solidly mature and mid-career, with once first level ideas now iterated, amplified, and refined several turns further. His new compositions (and objects) have more richness, complexity, and subtlety than ever before, proving that with sustained effort and dedication, novel media transformation can indeed open up whole new white spaces for artistic investigation.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $12000, $14000, or $22000, based on size, with the diptych priced at $24000. The vases are priced at $7500 each. Gordon’s work has little consistent secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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