JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 black and white and color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the front and main gallery spaces and the connecting hallway. 16 of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2014. Physical sizes range from roughly 15×15 to 16×17 (or reverse), and the prints are available in editions of 6+2AP. The other 3 works on display are digital c-prints, made in 2011. These prints are sized 40×40 and are also available in editions of 6+2AP. (Overly yellow installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Once in a while, an artist comes up with a visual device that is at once elegant in its simplicity and deceptively complex in its application. Erica Baum’s dog eared book pages are just such a device, the triangular folding down of a yellowing page providing a nearly infinite number of potential juxtapositions and combinations. Her earliest works in this series were satisfyingly word driven, turning opportune mash ups of snatched phrases into mysterious haikus and abstract metaphors, reveling in poetic wordplay and textural paper physicality.
Her recent folded works (from the series Stills) dive into halftone printing, where arrays of tiny dots coalesce into fields of greyscale color or recognizable imagery. Her improvisations and iterations begin with solid color – soft light grey, dark black – and then go further via small misalignments of the fold and minute interruptions, an extra line or angle disrupting the purity of the Albers-like geometry. These minimalist exercises then evolve into layered gradients and more complex combinations of forms, each one a surprisingly sophisticated composition.
Other works from the same series employ recognizable imagery (again in black and white halftone), turning the folded corners into elusive paired rebuses (almost like collages), the action of the fold rotating the backside image. Smoke stacks are matched with daisies, while jauntily raised legs, silhouetted Kent State policemen, and snatched faces offer clues to potential (often surreal) narratives, but no real answers. These works connect more directly with Baum’s ongoing Naked Eye series, where fragments of images are discovered amid the fanned out pages of a paperback.
In the back gallery, three larger works from Baum’s Viewmaster series continue her investigations of text, albeit without the dog eared pages. Close up, high contrast shots of the circular slides (with two frames per image to provide the stereoscopic effect) don’t allow us to see the actual photographs, but instead focus on the title captions that radiate from the center. We are left to dream up what “A Tentacle Snatches Up One of the Crew”, “We Must Defend the Earth From Invaders”, or “In Martian Desert, They Dig Out a Strange Figure” might look like, the fantastic imaginary conjuring of these science fiction scenes surely better than anything already captured on film. The misdirection of using the text as a stand in for the images is smartly effective.
Seen together, this show is solid evidence that Baum’s bookish artistic methods are continuing to gain momentum. She’s expanded her nuanced visual ideas further, pushing back on the obviousness of a photograph, making us reconsider how an ordinary snippet of text or imagery can open up unexpected aesthetic and narrative discussions. Her pictures have an intimate immediacy, drawing us into a seemingly exclusive conversation, showing us a small something tucked away in an old book that just might make us think.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $4000 and $5500, based on size and place in the edition. Baum’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.