Emmet Gowin, Landscapes Andalucía @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against light green and off white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are pigment prints, made in 2012/2013. The prints are sized roughly 13×20 (or reverse) and are available in editions of 15+5AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Commissioned to coincide with his recent retrospective at the Fundación MAPFRE in Spain (linked in the sidebar), Emmet Gowin’s newest works take him back into the skies, this time looking down over the rolling hills and farmlands of Granada. While Gowin’s aerial photography has taken him all over the world, from the battlefields of Kuwait to the industrial mines of the Czech Republic and crisscrossing back and forth all over the United States (particularly the West), these images are his first look at Spain, and more importantly, in contrast to the luscious toned black and white of his previous aerials, they find him experimenting with color for the first time.

The gentle hills of Andalucía offer much less of the man-alterted ugliness that we have come to expect from a Gowin aerial landscape. Part of the draw of his earlier photographs was their unsettling contrast – the scarred surfaces of cratered weapons testing sites, missile silos, air strips, bomb disposal fields, rail cuts, and tire tracks, executed with such sublime grace and tonal subtlety that you could almost forget the environmental horrors being presented. In these new works, the human influences are more evolved and muted, even when the farmland resolves into strips, stripes, and endless fields of regimented dots of trees. It’s hard to generate much sense of outrage from these soothing tree-lined valleys.

Part of the issue is that Gowin’s palette is so warm and inviting. Dusty yellow evolves into smoky red and pastel green, bathing the land in a softness that belies its rugged geography. The two best images in the show capture smears of color that fill the landscape like gradients, shifting from pink to orange to yellow and back again to elemental green; the enveloping almost rainbow color seems impossibly lovely. But many of the rest of the works on view miss this moment of transporting pigment, settling back into more usual hues of the dry season: the light brown stubble of close cut fields and the deeper green of hollows and edges of year round forests. While a winding road, a deep cut of water wash, or the fingers of eroded hills might catch our eye, the majority of the images quickly pass from memory.

When this work gets folded back into the broad sweep of Gowin’s long photographic career, I think the edit will be much tighter, cutting back to just the pair of colored hills images and perhaps a representative picture of the gridded dots of trees; the rest will fall away into well-made secondary material. For a one-off commission lacking in the kind of visually challenging subject matter that Gowin has documented most successfully, perhaps that’s not such a bad outcome.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $7000 or $9000, based on the place in the edition. Gowin’s work is intermittently available in the secondary markets, with a handful of prints coming up for sale in any given year. Recent prices for single images have ranged from roughly $1000 to $10000, with portfolios and multi-print sets reaching $40000.

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