JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space, the smaller back gallery, and the office area. All of the works are chromogenic prints, made in 2014. Physical sizes range from 40×30 to 60×70 (or reverse), and all of the images are available in editions of 3+1AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Back in 2009 when Daniel Gordon was included in MoMA’s annual New Photography exhibit (review here), we only had the barest introductory hint of just how innovative his sculptural photo constructions might become. At that time, he was using a rudimentary version of his current approach to deconstruct portraiture, turning faces and bodies into unsettling ripped collages of mismatched parts. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see in those early pictures the seeds of his expanded artistic vocabulary, where the inherently unstable duality of a flat photographic image and its three dimensional paper existence fight with each other for visual dominance.
In recent years, Gordon’s hand crafted approach has continued to evolve and grow and he has turned his attention more fully to rethinking the still life genre. Building vases of flowers and piles of fruit out of torn paper imagery, he has reveled in the dissonance of turning a peach blue and constructing its smooth skin out of obviously crumpled and scissored paper. He’s also redirected his portraiture exploration into rounder, chunkier profiles and busts, turning constructed heads into objects that cast shadows and draw silhouettes. At every incremental step, he’s pushed on the intersection of photographic representation and physicality, every object a not-quite-what-it-seems deception.
Gordon’s terrific new show is tangible evidence of an artist hitting full stride. It expands his aesthetic thinking in three different directions – larger, smaller (not exactly, but I’ll explain), and for the first time, slightly digital.
Several of his new works are obviously bigger, both physically in terms of their print size and compositionally in the sense that he has allowed a cluster of still life objects to multiply, filling his studio to the bursting point with eye-popping Matisse-like color and pattern. There are flowers, and skulls, and fruit (apples, watermelons, cherries, and peaches in a rainbow of mismatched colors), and shells, and vases, and pots, and who knows what else, all piled into tiers of background plaids and polka dots and chevrons. The constructions are bold and muscular and nearly kaleidoscopic, hovering right on the edge of too much to take in, but ultimately coalescing into a contemporary echo of still lifes we have seen before but torn down and recreated in a wholly original form.
While Gordon has made some small works in his career (particularly a lovely group of lemons that couldn’t have been bigger than 8×10), the second group of works in his new show are, in a way, quite a bit smaller. While the prints themselves are 40×30 (not small in anyone’s book), they are made from tiny digital fragments of Gordon’s larger tableaux. Of course, we can play the game of searching the big still lifes for the hidden pieces, but that’s really not the point. What’s quite a bit more intriguing is that Gordon has in a sense “finished” with his physical studio activities, and then introduced new layers of digital processing. These “smaller” works have been cut from the larger digital cloth of final photographs, and then enlarged to the point that their interlaced patterns dominate, becoming entirely abstract. His cut and paste physicality has been augmented by drag and drop editing, with rough torn edges of paper now intermingling with perfectly crisp software overlays and fills. The enlargements remove any concept of representation, so like Richter’s reuse of his own paintings to make his recent digital strips, Gordon is cannibalizing his own still lifes to make recursive abstractions.
The larger still lifes also show evidence of Gordon tweaking in the digital realm. Shadows cast by vases of flowers are no longer simply black, but are now filled with riotous color. Background patterns have also been subtly manipulated, doubling and reversing patterns, or creating negative echoes in alternate color schemes. Gordon’s work here has a light touch, and might actually go unnoticed or at least unremarked upon given the rest of the assaulting visual stimuli. But it’s clear that he has opened the digital toolbox for the first time and is now selectively enhancing his physical constructions with additional effects, and those edits are allowing him to raise the intensity of his compositions.
I like the sense of conceptual expanding and contracting that this show delivers. Gordon’s new images pair boisterous all-over exuberance with tight geometric attention, resolute physicality with digital tuning. His innovative methodology is getting more refined and sophisticated with each incremental advance and hybridization, and that increased complexity is making his photographs even more exciting and durably original.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $8000 and $15000 based on size. 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.