JTF (just the facts): A total of 33 photographic works, variously framed/unframed, and hung against and affixed to white walls in the two main gallery rooms and the reception area. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2013 and 2015. Physical sizes range from 12×9 to 55×39, and each of the images is available in an edition of 10. A single three dimensional work is shown on the floor of the smaller gallery space, made of archival pigment prints affixed to the sides of a birch wood box; it is sized 21 inches on a side, and is available in an edition of 3. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: One of the unexpected byproducts of the widespread use of digital manipulation in contemporary photography has been a renewed interest in and rediscovery of the perception bending tricks of old school photoconceptualism. It’s as if fooling the viewer with software has become far too easy and obvious, so much so that some artists have become interested in bringing back the optical effects and distortions of the analog age, perhaps as a kind of proof of reinvented conceptual authenticity. From made-to-be-photographed constructions to complex iterative rephotography, we’re seeing a blossoming renaissance of photography about photography, energetically picking up from where some of the bold faced names of the 1970s left off.
Delphine Burtin’s clever gallery show/installation follows this larger trend and actively tests our ability to separate the found from the constructed in her work, intermingling the two types of images in one meandering whole. Playing with the image/object duality of a photographic print, she uses folds and cuts combined with layers of rephotography to create visual illusions and mysteries of flatness and dimensionality. A pile of white paper scraps is photographed and cut once again, creating misalignments and shadows that upend our understanding of its space. Two views of what looks to be a plastic drain strainer are cut in half, reassembled as one, and rephotographed, juxtaposing their clear difference in perspective. And physical folds are rephotographed and made flat (in a manner similar to the work of John Houck), while shadows in a rephotographed sliced image of a bubbled glass orb are cast in opposing directions.
These varied deceptions are then woven together with found oddities that look like her constructed puzzles but were drawn from the world around us. An elegantly pleated grey form reveals itself as an upended section of molded concrete stairs, a folded blue and white paper study turns out to be an up-close gum wrapper, and a vertiginous angled corner study shares formal qualities with a mirrored tabletop construction reminiscent of Florence Henri. Burtin then gives these images yet another conceptual twist by affixing them directly to the wall, in some cases allowing the images to bend across the junction of the wall and floor, in another folding a corner of the print outward, creating a triangle that juts into three dimensional space. By consciously mixing her folded paper studies, her rephotographed optical experiments, and her in-real-life formal discoveries, she forces us to constantly stay on our guard, questioning what our eyes claim to be seeing.
For those with an interest in photoconceptual echoes, there are plenty of homages and allusions to be uncovered here. Clear Plexiglas doors in the woods recall John Pfahl’s altered landscapes. An image of an orange peel cut once again connects back to Laura Letinsky. And floating weather balloons against a cloudy sky recreate John Baldessari’s famous thrown red balls. In each case, the original idea is given yet another turn.
In an adjacent room, a brand new body of work moves further toward sculptural issues and concerns, turning everyday objects (of indeterminate scale) into elemental formal studies. While some of these images look like pared down Fischli & Weiss assemblages, others reintroduce rephotography, enclosing a circular form in an unfolding origami pyramid and chopping black tubing and a handbag into a three dimensional cubic study of recurring curves.
When seen together, there is a voracious experimentation in the many conceptual ideas and photographic references swirling around in this show that feels exploratory and transitional. It’s as if Burtin has been processing lots of inputs and ideas, synthesizing and reusing them for her own purposes, and working to boil them all down into her own consistent voice. As a first gallery show in the United States, it’s both a promising start and an invitation to keep looking.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The archival pigment prints are priced at $1950, $3200, $3500, and $4500, based on size. The box is $5500. Burtin’s works have little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.