Every Booth at the Unseen Photo Fair 2015, Part 1 of 2

If there is one common truth about photography collectors, it is that we are prisoners of what we have seen. The corollary of this perhaps obvious insight is that by definition, we don’t know much about what we haven’t seen, or even where to look for it – the fact that we might realize that such photography does exist and might be worth tracking down is in many ways the first step toward getting out from underneath our own constraints, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I see a tremendous number of gallery and museum shows of photography every year, and go to my fair share of art fairs, so I can say with some confidence that if you travel long enough in the well worn ruts of Chelsea, our major New York museums, the biggest name fairs on the calendar, and the seasonal auctions at the major houses, you will start to see the same photography over and over again. The usual suspects vary a bit from category to category, but patterns certainly emerge over time, with familiar names coming up again and again. Optimists might see this as the natural sifting of the art world promoting the most deserving names to the top, while pessimists will see an entrenched insider-driven system that doesn’t allow much new entry from unexpected or unapproved sources. Either way, active collectors absolutely see certain kinds of work repeatedly, often to the point of dulling numbness.

So let’s assume for a second that we are thoughtful collectors and we have noticed this narrowing phenomenon, and want to do something about it. But what to do isn’t exactly obvious. We can try to follow foreign museums and galleries more closely, but that’s honestly pretty hard from far away, especially if we can’t visit these venues in person very often (or ever); only an elite few wealthy collectors have the time and resources to jet around tracking the most promising new exhibitions. We can surf the many photography sites on the net and subscribe to dozens of magazines, searching for inspiration and serendipitous connections; while this might be fun, it’s certainly time consuming and has a discouragingly low hit rate. Increasingly, we can buy photobooks from small publishers (and photographers directly), looking for exciting work that may not have found a home in the gallery system, but the discovery process for these books is difficult (part of the reason we are consciously reviewing more books on Collector Daily by the way), especially since many books are released in such small editions and without broad distribution; for less than perfectly well informed collectors, the “hot” books are almost always maddeningly gone by the time we hear about them.

The Unseen Photo Fair has bravely stepped into this yawning breach with the hopes of being the place where deserving “unseen” and overlooked work can find a home. While not exactly punk in its well designed, fresh-cut wood planking look and feel, in spirit, it is in many ways the anti-fair, a place where the outsiders can congregate, new work has a welcoming home, and risks can be taken. Having been to the Armory, Frieze, ABMB, Paris Photo, AIPAD, and others in all of the past few years, I can vouch that the work on view here (and the galleries presenting it) is verifiably different. For the record, there were no New York photo galleries exhibiting at the fair (and only one from the entire US, Kopeikin Gallery from Los Angeles), nor were there any major contemporary galleries who often show photography from the US or Europe taking part. It was a mostly European (with some Asian additions) group, and largely galleries that don’t run in the circuit that US collectors generally follow. Given my particular mindset, it was like a much needed breath of fresh air.

The very real danger that could occur with this kind of quietly contrarian model is that the work on view could be uniformly weak; maybe there is a good reason it isn’t being shown elsewhere. Without naming names, we can all bring to mind art fairs that lack the big players, and are filled with mediocre (or worse) photography – the kind that is unseen and should generally stay that way. And if I am honest, in advance of my first visit to Unseen this year, I was secretly a bit worried that this is what I might find. My plan was that if I found an uneven mix of photography, I’d just put together a few summary highlights, chalk it up to a learning experience, and call it a day.

But what you will find below is a complete booth by booth summary of the fair, just like we do for Paris Photo and AIPAD, which I hope reflects my respect for what Unseen has achieved. While there are soft spots to all art fairs, the work I found at Unseen was consistently solid, certainly comparable in quality to any of the major photo fairs on the calendar. Let’s be clear – there is no vintage work at all at Unseen, and not a lot of massively sized work, so there is very little photography priced higher than say $20000, and not many hang-your-hat household names to be found on the walls; in fact, there seems to be conscious push toward the lower end of the price range, with many featured works around $1000 (the Unseen Collection). But the fact that this fair is as full of intriguing contemporary photography as it is says there is a subculture alive and well flying under the radar of the mainstream photo market. I found this to be particularly true for work I had only seen in innovative photobooks and was now seeing in person for the first time. Perhaps a new cohort of galleries are coalescing around these emerging photographers in ways I had failed to previously understand (and as an aside, the thriving and well integrated book market at Unseen is a major positive in supporting the main fair).

The slideshow below (and the one to be found in Part 2 of this report) is organized around my path through the fair, starting with booths 1-11 in a side building and following through to booths 12-55 (no unlucky 13) in the main hall, a round space with a handy coffee bar/congregation point in the center. For each booth, the linked name of the gallery is followed by the discussion of a single work, with the photographer’s name, the price, and other description, commentary, and analysis to follow. The structured exercise of selecting just one work to feature from each and every booth certainly has its own strengths and weaknesses, but on the whole, I think it accurately reflects a broad sample of what’s on view, and allows me to dig into specific images with more focus than a wider higher level, arm waving summary might allow. It also gives collectors who read the summaries some actionable information, with names to write down and links to follow for images that catch they eye.

All in, Unseen has built something worthwhile in Amsterdam and intrepid collectors who want to step out of the increasingly deep ruts of photography should put it on the calendar for next year. As it matures, it has the potential to be that one pluckily energetic photo fair that is complementary to all the faceless others.

Seelevel Gallery (here): Diana Scherer’s images of controlled root systems are like delicate geometric tiles or intricate filigree. Thin tendrils weave themselves into complex patterns and repetitions amid the clustered dirt. The works have both an elemental formal elegance and an inherent absurdity, with humans once again corralling nature into our own conception of beauty. Priced at €1000.

Kana Kawanishi Gallery (here): Hideo Anze’s iPhone abstractions are dominated by perfect machined verticals of various sizes and widths. Created via combinations of flickered light refraction (at a specific frequency used after the Fukushima accident) and specific color, the images mix hard edged geometries with softer flares and blurs. Each image is accompanied by a dense compendium of data, including technical information (in both English and Japanese), news headlines from its moment of creation, and GPS information of its exact location, adding a layer of unwieldy context/memory to an otherwise sleek package. Priced at €700 each, and shown in a large grid.

Galerie Bart (here): Jannemarein Renout joins a growing list of artists making photographs with scanners. Starting with effectively nothing (the available light influenced by the weather conditions that day), she plays the scanner like an instrument, creating digital warps, distortions, and reverbs that thrum across the surface. In this work, multiple transparent scans have been sandwiched together, layering the strips of abstract color effects on top of one another. Her works are bold and bright, with a kind of whorled digital texture up close. Priced at €2100.

Starter Gallery (here): Pawel Bownik’s reconstructed floral specimens exude painstaking scientific obsessiveness. Plants and blossoms have been meticulously disassembled (some with numbering, cataloguing, or other markings) and then carefully put back together with the aid tape, fishing line, foam, and wire as needed. Their classic isolated forms recall Karl Blossfeldt’s rigorous plant studies from the 1920s, but with a more exploratory, interventionist streak. Priced at €6000 in the larger size.

Kaune, Posnik, Spohr (here): Stefan Heyne’s earlier works turned fragmented views of recognizable objects into uncertain primal blurs. His newer works take that concept further, pushing into studies of light leaking and bending across undefined surfaces. They’re more ephemeral and mysterious than before, like dancing shadows. Priced at €2600.

CINNAMON (here): Theis Wendt’s wall dominating works are both images of the thing and the thing itself. Starting with the wood from the warmly burnished frame, he’s constructed a digital composite of the various grains, creating a flat expanse that looks like impossibly faceted flooring. The work is both obviously sculptural and reflexively inward looking, delving into its own reality. Priced at €10000.

Mirko Mayer Galerie/M-Projects (here): Micha Cattaui’s photographs bring current events into the arena of conceptualized artistic advocacy. This series symbolically depicts the disappearance of antiquities as a “marble” bust made of frozen meat (hanging on a hook) that slowly falls apart piece by piece. It’s performative, time-base erosion with an issues-based message. Priced at €3500 for the set of 9 images.

Francis Boeske Projects (here): Mohsen Rastani’s improvised war zone portraits from Iran recall the crisp, white-backed isolation of Richard Avedon. Separated from the bustle of the city, this government recruiter (with bullhorn) is both fully covered and intensely visible. Priced at €4900.

Webber Gallery Space (here): Thomas Albdorf’s photographs explore recreating (and engaging with) nature in sculptural form. Here he uses Robert Smithson-like shards of mirror to reconstruct a jagged mountain peak, breaking down the landscape and then rebuilding it in an alternate guise. Priced at €1000.

South Kiosk (here): This grid of textural “paintograph” images by Thorbjørn Andersen was made using paint on glass as a starting point, which later became a negative for further darkroom machinations. It’s a swirling mass of tactile gesture, full of dust and grit, further blurring the process boundary between painting and photography. Priced at €4000 for the set of 9 prints.

Ag Galerie (here): Mehrdad Naraghi’s dark views of Tehran are nearly impenetrable. Taken at dawn and dusk, they seem to document fearful dust storms or dank pollution, the city engulfed in an oppressive mood. After your eyes adjust, small details start to emerge from the darkness – a communications tower, a mosque, a cluster of construction cranes, a limp flag. Each seems to have failed in this dense environment, the weight of the regime symbolically turning day to night. Priced at €650 each, from a set of 14.

Galerie Alex Daniëls – Reflex Amsterdam (here): Todd Hido’s newest work continues his recent trend of incorporating more hints of atmospheric narrative. Many of his signature motifs can be found in this solo booth installation: darkened buildings, moist windows, slushy snow, the dark glow of neon, portraits of seemingly vulnerable young women. These pieces have been woven into a larger, noir-ish vignette, with street signs, found photos, and other rephotographed ephemera providing clues to an elusive story. The fluorescent glow of this image was particularly striking, setting the mood of lonely melancholy. Priced at €3600.

Kopeikin Gallery (here): Charlie Rubin’s photography is filled with experimentation and risk taking. This image begins with a picture of a birch tree, featuring its peeling tendrils of white bark. From there a print of the image was physically crumpled and rephotographed, with the addition of what looks to be a deflated mylar balloon on top, its facets of silvery rainbow texture bringing another tactile element to the layered composition – wrinkle on top of wrinkle on top of wrinkle. Priced at €1900.

G/P Gallery (here): Mayumi Hosokura’s newest works are pairs of images framed together (often nudes), mixing bright tinted colors, processes, and textures. This particular work juxtaposes the casual roughness of a black and white copy process on top with the curving smoothness of crisp yellow photograph below, using misaligned bodies to further upend our expectations. Priced at €2500.

Galerie Juliètte Jongma (here): This earlier body of work from Lisa Oppenheim (2011) was one I hadn’t seen before. Her color photograms of arrangements of overlapped stems/fronds are boldly graphic, like James Welling’s black and white layers of cut paper. Priced at €3200.

Flatland Gallery (here): This recent carbon print from Erwin Olaf finds him bug eyed and drooling, chomping on a gag ball in frothing protest against the Charlie Hebdo incident and its constraints on freedom of speech/expression. His boiling over anger seems altogether real and palpable, right on the edge of unhinged but undeniably powerful. Priced at €19500.

SAGE Paris (here): Akiko Takizawa has revived the 19th century French collotype in these images, and between the fine detail of the process itself and the subtle weave of the paper, the works have a tactile delicacy. The bare bulb and fedora in this particular image add a cinematic noir touch to what would otherwise be an intricate study of textures. Priced at €2000.

Robert Morat Galerie (here): While Andrea Grützner’s images may look perplexingly scaled and oriented, their illusionistic flattened angles and shadows are entirely unmanipulated. The best of the images from the series are pleasingly disorienting, here turning a tired guesthouse bathroom into something more mysterious and filled with tension. Priced at €1900.

Valid Foto BCN Gallery (here): The This Is You project from the Spanish duo of Albarrán Cabrera intermingles underexposed family photos with newer images inspired by the found ones, turning an aesthetic discovered in posed snapshots into a series of anonymous portraits. All of the faces are hidden/unrecognizable, transforming the specific into the universal. This particular photograph has a sinuously elegant uncertainty that gives it an uneasy edge. Priced at €800.

Galerie Jo van de Loo (here): Regine Petersen’s Find a Fallen Star uses meteorite finds as starting point for various unspooling narratives. While I had seen the work in photobook form, it was intriguing to see prints from the project up close, as the surfaces of the isolated objects have more personality in the larger format. Priced at €3800.

Galerie Nicola von Senger (here): This solo booth of the works of Beni Bischof was riotously irreverent. Fingers and sausages protrude from pop culture/fashion magazine images, turning faces into grotesque caricatures. There’s even a fake of a fake of a signed Richard Price celebrity photo, a double of homage and wry satire. Priced between €100 and €2500, largely based on size.

Galerie Fons Welters (here): This box set project from Paulien Oltheten takes a straightforward set of photographs and turns them into something altogether more elegant and sophisticated. Using a fallen lamppost as a visual divider, Oltheten made split second images that capture passersby on both sides of angled line, not unlike Paul Graham’s recent street photography. But in the construction of the box, she’s placed the prints in loose down-inside insets, allowing the viewer to pull them up (using a handy ribbon) and then order them as they see fit. This turns a rigidly sequential activity into something more open ended, and the angles of the streetlamp can be aligned and reoriented in different ways. So very simple, but so very smartly designed. Priced at €950.

Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire (here): Erwan Morère’s images (seen in a solo booth here) are dark, gritty, and blurry – atmospheric mood setters them all. This long shot of a silhouetted dog is part Divola, part Moriyama, and part menace from afar. Priced at €1800.

Stieglitz19 (here): Remember the dancing plastic bag from the film American Beauty? It’s been reincarnated here by Vincent Delbrouck. Possessed with all the same unlikely balletic grace, it floats in tandem with its shadow. Priced at €1700.

AANDO FINE ART (here): Often when we talk about composite photographs that have been digitally stitched together from hundreds of source files, we focus on the hyper reality they create in their intense crispness from edge to edge. Kim Boske’s panoramic view of a dark lush garden is just the opposite. It’s built from hundreds of images taken moving across the land, but it’s misty, and dense, and open ended, full of uncertainty instead of clarity. While I had to stop and think to appreciate it’s inversion, I found it’s consciously shifting imperfection intriguing. Priced at €8200.

Kehrer Galerie (here): Jeffrey Silverthorne’s recent works bring together antique anatomical drawings and dated pinups, overlaying them one on top of the other so that hybrid collaged bodies are created. This well-aligned combo of beefcake and flayed torso has a time collapsing, muscular body synergy. Priced at €3000.

Galerie van der Mieden (here): Filip Dujardin’s fictional architecture seems to self assemble in puzzling ways. In this image, concrete blocks multiply across an interior wall like some kind of replication process gone wild, building some impossibly failed tunnel structure. The works are modernly futuristic and quietly unnerving at the same time. Priced at €5500.

Part 2 of this summary report can be found here.

Read more about: Akiko Takizawa, Andrea Grützner, Angel Albarrán & Anna Cabrera, Beni Bischof, Charlie Rubin, Diana Scherer, Erwan Morère, Erwin Olaf, Filip Dujardin, Hideo Anze, Jannemarein Renout, Jeffrey Silverthorne, Kim Boske, Lisa Oppenheim, Mayumi Hosokura, Mehrdad Naraghi, Micha Cattaui, Mohsen Rastani, Paulien Oltheten, Pawel Bownik, Regine Petersen, Stefan Heyne, Theis Wendt, Thomas Albdorf, Thorbjørn Andersen, Todd Hido, Vincent Delbrouck, AANDO FINE ART, Ag Galerie, Cinnamon, Flatland Gallery, Francis Boeske Projects, G/P Gallery, Galerie Alex Daniëls – Reflex Amsterdam, Galerie Bart, Galerie Fons Welters, Galerie Jo van de Loo, Galerie Juliètte Jongma, Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire, Galerie Nicola von Senger, Galerie van der Mieden, Kana Kawanishi Gallery, Kaune, Posnik, Spohr, Kehrer Galerie, Kopeikin Gallery, Mirko Mayer Galerie/M-Projects, Robert Morat Galerie, SAGE Paris, Seelevel Gallery, South Kiosk, Starter Gallery, Stieglitz19, Valid Foto BCN Gallery, Webber Gallery Space, Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam

One comment

  1. Haydee Yordan /

    Hello Knoblauch,
    This is a much needed article for all “under the radar” art.
    I am an art photographer from Puerto Rico. My artwork is good and innovative, but my personal circumstances are difficult: woman, old and puertorican… besides no galleries in the Island exhibit photos.
    I want to exhibit in UNSEEN Fair. Can you suggest a way to get there? It is ironical that I will be exhibiting in the 4th Photography Biennial in Berlin, Germany next October.
    Thanks.
    Haydee Yordan

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