Erica Baum, Off The Cuff @Bureau

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 color and black-and-white photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2023. Physical sizes are roughly 16×16, 19×16, 21×16, and 40×34 inches, and the prints are available in editions of 6+2AP (smaller sizes) or 4+2AP (largest size). (Installation shots below.)

A photobook presentation of the “Fabrications” project was published in 2023 by Three Star Books (here). Hand sewn softcover in slipcase, 36 x 27 cm, 120 pages. In an edition of 40 copies. (Cover shot below.)

A selection of other works by Baum is on view in the downstairs gallery.

Comments/Context: For the past several months, the austere website for Bureau in the Lower East Side has laid relatively quiet, with no new shows cycling through and a short note announcing an Erica Baum show at a forthcoming new space in Tribeca. That message lingered through much of last fall and winter and into this spring, and as the months clicked by, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the gallery’s progress on the move, that is until I realized last week that Bureau was indeed open once again, and with the Erica Baum show it had been promising. So I rushed down to the spacious new location on Duane Street in Tribeca to catch the show before it closed.

I’ve been a low key admirer of Baum’s thoughtful paper-aware work for more than a decade now, going back to her first elegantly radical dog eared pages and feathered paperback edges, as first seen (by me) in a tiny Bureau space on Henry Street in 2012 (reviewed here). In the years since, Bureau has consistently hosted exhibitions of Baum’s work (in 2014, here, and 2016, here), and her 2019 show (reviewed here) introduced layered patterns from 1960s and 1970s era sewing and hobby books. Baum’s newest body of work, titled “Fabrications”, continues her exploration of this subject matter, employing a range of sophisticated visual strategies and compositional techniques, several of which have echoes and resonances with earlier projects.

The works in black-and-white are among the strongest in this new project, aligning fragments from various pages into layered collage-like vertical strips. In “Woolens”, textural snippets of knitted sweaters and other dense embroidery are consolidated into one composite form, while in “Knee Sock Stance”, the insistent verticality of legs with socks (and black shoes) feels rhythmically amplified by Baum’s narrowly sliced arrangement of knit patterns. “Glove Length” continues with this smart crowding of arrayed textures, and “Arrangement Tweed” leans into the visual chaos even further, with swirls, spots, and grids all intermingled. Still other works play with different levels of thickness and thinness of the strips, as well as the absence and presence of texture and monochrome tonalities, each new composition balancing the spatial tensions, allusions, and relationships of the subject matter, as well as the tactile possibilities of the enlarged halftone printing.

When Baum allows brighter color to enter into the conversation, the aesthetic dynamics change noticeably. One group of images (including “Page Bouquet Arrangements” and “Page Building Building”, among others) pushes the stripe motif to its logical endpoint, with tight vertical bands of color filling the frames from edge to edge. The yellowing color bands of the pattern books are much less vibrant than those found in today’s magazines, leading to lineups that wander through softened yellows, oranges, greens, and pinks with a kind of faded richness; in many cases, Baum’s choices aren’t just flat color planes, but instead include gradients, moires, fragments of gestural lines and lettering, and other color movements that add energy to the transitions and connections.

With the other color works in “Fabrications”, Baum moves in the other direction, using just two or three excerpts to create a composition. “Hand Bookend” pairs just what it says (a bookend with a hand on it) with another image featuring the edge of a flower motif and a twirl of wire with a spiral, matching the yellow color backdrops and the formal lines of the edges; she uses a similar strategy with two other works in pink, where the color theme links the images into a nearly continuous whole. “Rug Blue Sample” is another strong work, with an interruption of shaggy blue carpet laid over a woman sitting with her hand on her leg. Some other pairings and juxtapositions are playful but somewhat less successful, with child-like kittens, owls, birds, and other friendly faces and characters recalibrating the otherwise abstract visual links.

Across her career, Baum has experimented with everything from chalk blackboards to card catalogues, but paper remains her most compelling subject. As a group, these new works are uneven, but more than a few rise up to find that precision of arrangement that makes a Baum photograph so understatedly engrossing. Edges, folds, overlaps, enlargements, and unexpected discoveries are her storytelling devices, and when she gets it just right, Baum’s visual stories feel timelessly intricate and unexpectedly stylish.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $7000 or $11000, based on size. Baum’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Erica Baum, Bureau Inc., Three Star Books

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Poursuite Editions (here). Softcover, 21 x 29 cm, 144 pages, with 107 black-and-white and color reproductions. Includes an essay by Clément Ghys ... Read on.

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