Ethan Greenbaum, Prospect @KANSAS

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale color works, displayed against white walls in the entry area, the main gallery space, and the smaller back room. All of the works are direct to substrate prints, some on vacuum formed PETG and others on acrylic panels with acrylic paint (and hinged aluminum frames), made in 2013. Physical dimensions range from roughly 16×15 to 67×96 (or reverse); no edition information was provided on the checklist. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: One of the byproducts of the digital revolution in photography has been the discrete separation of image content from its underlying substrate. For most of the history of the medium, a photograph was by definition a paper print of some kind (or perhaps a second generation halftone/silkscreened image on canvas); image and substrate were generally fully integrated. Today, a photograph can be printed on almost anything, opening up new possibilities for experimental use and reuse of photographic imagery. While we can still potentially identify a “photograph” as an artwork output on photographic paper, we will also increasingly need to expand our definition to include genre defying works that incorporate/employ photographic imagery in alternate forms.

On their own, Ethan Greenbaum’s photographs of up close sidewalk textures and gutter detritus wouldn’t likely merit our attention; we’ve seen luscious abstractions of scratched, scraped and pebbled surfaces many times before. What makes Greenbaum’s artworks unexpected and exciting is their innovative use of a plastic foundation; the images are printed directly on transparent, wavy, glossy material, scaled up to fill a wall. He takes this idea further by vacuum molding this bubbled plastic, creating raised ridges and three dimensional deformations like pits, divots, and carved impressions. The effect is altogether transformative – intricate textures come alive, pieces of gum and old cigarette butts suddenly have presence (edges, sides, curves), and grubby sheet metal slabs become reliefs. Greenbaum’s process gives the sidewalks a sense of tactile topography, seemingly undulating and changing as we examine their sculptural presence from different angles. These textural explorations are taken in a different direction in related works that use multiple sandwiched layers of transparency. Starting with images of rock walls and synthetic laminates (like formica), Greenbaum has combined natural and man made granularity into shifting panels almost reminiscent of stained glass. Interlocking, off kilter depth and flatness wrestle, creating surfaces that never quite resolve.

While the image/object duality of photography is playing out in countless ways these days, Greenbaum’s works have an innovative brawny physicality that is something new. They have leveraged the exacting detail of photography and infused it with a sculptural structure, making simple flatness a quaint relic of how we used to see.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $1200 and $7000 each, generally based on size. Greenbaum’s works have little or no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail is likely the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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