JTF (just the facts): A total of 32 photographic works/installations, unframed and adhered directly to the walls, and hung in the entry area and the front and back gallery spaces. 15 of the works are photographs (digital c-prints?), ranging in size from 6×7 to 150×59; these prints are available in editions of 5. The rest of the works are mixed media sculptures/collages, ranging in size from 5×5 to 148×118; these works are either unique or available in editions of 2. All of the works were made in 2012-2013. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: With digital photography now increasingly ubiquitous and malleable as a medium, many artists that have traditionally spent their time exploring the boundaries of other materials have quietly begun to add a camera to their proverbial toolboxes. Given her history, Diana Cooper can in no way be rightfully categorized as a photographer; her previous works have generally lived in the realms of sculpture and installation, with a dash of painting and drawing thrown in for good measure. And yet, in her newest show, every single work is in some shape or form meaningfully photographic, and many are what we might call straightforward prints. It is clear that photography has been wholly absorbed into her artistic practice, offering her new methods for generating patterns and playing with space.
In her large mixed media installations, Cooper uses the flatness of photographs to provide a foundation layer for three dimensional building, where the rich textures of found objects are employed as collaged structural imagery. Pictures of bulbous green moss morph into real Astroturf, while photographs of tactile bales of recycled cans and paper and towers of stacked bins grow into plastic meshes of construction netting and rigid geometric filters and screens. In some cases, the photographs are used in layers of recursive reference, where images of red pipes and mirrors sit underneath physical manifestations of those same objects, pushing on notions of scale and repetition. In others, Cooper is drawn to simple ordered patterns, where candy colored stadium seats are piled into a flattened uneven kaleidoscope of multiplied visual motifs. In every case, the photographs fit seamlessly into her systematic approach to construction, mixing the crispness of man made images with the organic overlapped chaos of her open ended installations.
The rest of the works on view play with the trompe l’oeil properties of photography, adding extra air vents and skylights to the gallery space. Flat security cameras and monitors float on walls and in corners, while a fake security gate is pulled down near the door. She even adds extra metal plates to the floor and jams in a few stand pipes along one wall. Overall, it’s an effective, mind bending manipulation of the space. I didn’t see these photographs as particularly durable stand alone works, but more as if she had made the whole gallery into one big Diana Cooper installation, with the jittering space bending in on itself.
I think there is a fascinating short term difference between contemporary photographers who add sculptural qualities to their work and sculptors who add photographic qualities to theirs. It seems to me that the photographer still tends to see the boundaries of the traditional print as sacred, building up with three dimensional textures and physical collaging/manipulations (“sculptural photography”), while the sculptor tends to see photography as something less fixed, to be employed in the more adaptable and extensible form of digital imagination (“photographic sculpture”). Eventually, I think they’ll both end up in the same place, but for now, the approaches still have an intellectual point of view gap that separates them. Diana Cooper is clearly on the side of the sculptors, less interested in photography as an end point in and of itself, and more concerned with how photographic imagery can be used to extend and enhance her already complex artistic investigations. But those of us interested in the future of photography need to track artists like her, as she’s showing us an alternate path, and one that will ultimately merge with the one we’re following.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $1000 for the smallest single image photographs to $40000 for the largest mixed media installations. Cooper’s work has very little secondary market history (and none at all in the markets for photography), so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.
I completely disagree with your comment that “the photographer still tends to see the boundaries of the traditional print as sacred”. This is overstating and trivializing the case. I think the photographer is caught in a quandry where the sort of clever ad hoc collage that is so often used these days in work is well, clever, and exhausts itself quickly. The problem is deeply embedded in what there is to do with the picture plane to maintain the integrity of an image for its own sake yet still explore it's relationshiop to textural reality. Do we give up making good images and throw in the towel with the collage crew? In which case it becomes more like wallpaper and less like photography. From reading your recent statements it seems that photography is at a similar impasse that painting was at at the time of Frank Stella when things moved from modernist painting's “flatness and delimitation of flatness” to “three dimensional work aka the minimalist object.
I'm not saying that photography needs to stand still but that the various strategies that artists employ to deal with the sculptural are more problematic than you seem to give them credit for. I also think that jumping on the digital manipulation bandwagon also sidesteps certain issues for the photographer. Though I'm not thrilled about arguing for medium specificity, there is something that I think will emerge from those whose artistic strengths lie in a certain medium than from those who tourist through. For instance I think Diana Cooper's work is far stronger from the point of view of sculpture and collage than it would be to think about from a photographic point of view. None of the images themselves look particularly compelling. In this case the photo blogger is celebrating sculptural use of photographer but from an image standpoint this work is pretty weak. I think we should be careful not to confuse insight with cleverness. Once clever is used up if there's nothing left to look at then you may as well be out on the street.
Which I guess begs the question, are we done with being interested with images for their own sake? Are is photography's place now as part of construction on some take on sculpture, reality, etc.