JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale color photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. 2 of the works are pigment prints, made in 2016. Each is sized roughly 75×59 (or reverse), and is available in editions of 3+1AP. The other 5 works are pigment prints on canvas, made in 2016 and 2017. Each of these is sized roughly 50×40 and is unique. Two additional works from this canvas series are on view in the back room, but are not officially part of the exhibit. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Daniel Gordon’s newest show feels like both an end and a beginning. With the closing of Wallspace last year, Gordon has recently joined James Fuentes, so clearly there is a sense of transition taking place in his representation, with a new gallery bringing a fresh perspective to the important facets of his work. But there is also change afoot in Gordon’s artistic output, as evidenced by this exhibit that pairs images which connect back to previous efforts with those that head off in a decidedly new direction. As such, there is flux and flow on display here, a straddle stance of sorts, with one foot in the past and one perhaps striding toward the future.
The two largest works on view here echo the still life constructions Gordon had been making in the past few years, albeit with a slightly more muted palette, and many of the same techniques and effects that made those previous pictures intelligent can be discovered in these images as well. Paper photographs are once again used to build vases, pitchers, and other vessels, as well as bowls of fruit and bouquets of flowers and leaves, the crinkled accumulations set against patterned coverings and multi-tiered displays that deftly confuse our understanding of photographic surface. These layered setups are rephotographed and then manipulated later in the digital realm, introducing colored shadows, doubled silhouettes, and backdrop effects. Gordon’s most recent efforts introduce a few new subject matter additions (raw steaks, elephant ear plants, zucchini, figs), but mostly diverge from his previous images in the area of color choice. Gone are the eye-poppingly electric colors and high contrast back and whites, now replaced by a softer and richer set of hues.
But these two pictures feel very much like the end of the creative line for this set of aesthetic ideas, the place where the additive process has reached its logical limit. Further riffing on these same themes with the ghosts of new vegetables and new ceramic forms runs the risk of becoming too obvious, the sophisticated photographic interrogation Gordon pioneered turning into a tedious decorative exercise. And as the setups have increased in size, Gordon also bumps into a creeping feeling of visual excess, where his biggest constructions edge near a place where they might spill over into too muchness.
Luckily, Gordon seems to have realized this looming set of problems, and has set off to unpack some of this gathering complexity. The rest of the works on view in this show reverse the building up process and instead begin to reduce these same compositions down to elemental essences. What comes out of this conscious layer-by-layer digital removal is a set of smaller works that have only the barest hints of their previous lives.
Almost all of these thinned out pictures seem to be inhabited by the leftovers from the cutting room floor. Where we once saw the roundness of a peach or a pear, we now see its opposite – the ground from the figure/ground reversal, or the roughly cut hole in the surrounding paper. These remnants and throw aways become the dominant forms of Gordon’s layered abstractions, their square edges balanced by slashing cuts or jagged tears and their depths and surfaces reduced to flat expanses of uniform color. These pieces are then piled up and allowed to interact, supported by interlocked sheets of colored backgrounds.
This group of images is full of echoes of something recognizable and shadows of the obvious, but their shapes remain inconclusive – his removals have left us with a handful of clues and aftereffects, but their overall motives are much more elusive and open ended. Printed on canvas as unique objects, the works bring painterliness to the forefront, while at the same time allowing digital mark making (and erasure) to find its way into the conversation. What’s exciting is that the whole idea of the physical still life has largely been destroyed, now replaced by its corollary, the multi-layered sculpturally-flattened space of software in between. These works are formal exercises in excavation, carving away the build up that gave his previous works their richness.
Which brings us back to this show as a beginning. Gordon’s images on canvas have carefully stepped into new aesthetic territory, and as a result, offer the promise of a new line of thinking. We may very well look back on this show as the one where the break first appeared, and Gordon first showed us his move to a new set of questions and possible answers. My guess is his next show will explore these options with even more refinement and formal complexity, probing the unstructured area at the edge of contemporary photography where the digital photographic image completely dissolves away into a newly discovered crop of component parts.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The large pigment prints are $18000 each, while the smaller pigment prints on canvas are $14000 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.