Fixed Variable @Hauser & Wirth

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing total of 16 works by 8 different photographers/artists, variously framed/displayed, and hung against white walls in a single room space in the back of the gallery. All of the works on view were made between 2012 and 2014.

The following photographers/artists have been included, with details of the specific works on view as background:

  • Lucas Blalock: 2 archival pigment prints, 2012, 2014, sized 21×17 and 44×35, in editions of 3+2AP
  • Ethan Greenbaum: 1 direct to substrate print on vacuum formed PETG (diptych), 2014, sized 71×54, unique
  • John Houck: 1 creased archival pigment print and 1 diptych of creased archival pigment prints, 2014, sized 60×40 or 30×24 (each panel), unique
  • Matt Keegan: 1 c-print with silkscreen on UV panel and 1 c-print, 2012 and 2014, sized 47×36 and 31×40, in editions of 5
  • Josh Kolbo: 1 set of 2 c-prints, 2013, sized 114x81x32, unique
  • Kate Steciw: 2 archival inkjet prints with UV coating, custom frame, and mixed media, 2014, dimensions variable, unique
  • Chris Wiley: 2 archival inkjet prints mounted on aluminum with artist frames (mirrored plexiglas or fabric), 2014, sized 42×28 each, in editions of 3, plus a selection of TBC wall stickers
  • Letha Wilson: 1 c-print/concrete, 1 emulsion transfer/concrete, and 1 corten steel/c-print, 2013, 2014, sized 18x14x2, 28x28x2, and 30x40x8, unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: As a companion to the recreated MoMA show, The Photographic Object, 1970 (reviewed by Richard B. Woodward here) on view in Hauser & Wirth’s 69th street space, Fixed Variable provides a crisp survey of how many of the original experimental ideas from forty years ago have been reconsidered and incorporated into contemporary photographic practice. While it might be tempting to see this pairing of exhibits as a kind of before/after or then/now duality, the new work seems largely unaware of the old, having evolved from similar underlying questions about flatness and the object quality of photography, but having done so independently, in radically different digital circumstances and with new tools and conceptual frameworks.

For those out on the front lines of photography, the names here will be largely familiar; most are in their 30s, living in New York, with a successful solo show or two under their belts. The group (with the addition of half a dozen other artists) has begun to coalesce; while not exactly a capital letter movement, there is certainly an interrelated awareness and connection between their efforts to expand the definitional boundaries of the medium. Some are exploring the durably relevant limits of digital manipulation or toying with new kinds of abstraction (gestural or software driven), while others are pushing on physicality and deconstructing representation. Like a pack of hyenas, they are circling the carcass of photography, picking at it, tearing off chunks, and settling into the long grass to digest their individual morsels. While each is following his or her own discrete path, you get the sense that they are in some sense working together, with fragments of ideas starting with one artist and being quickly repurposed by another in accelerating generations. Together, they are generating forward momentum.

To my eye, Letha Wilson, John Houck, and Lucas Blalock have come the farthest (of those on view in this particular show) in terms of the maturity of their work. A new zig zag folded Wilson sunset is swathed in uneven rough concrete, elegantly combining dappled colors with flat grey, a flat vista with raised patterns, and something identifiable with something completely abstract; it’s compactly powerful, and operating on several levels at once. For John Houck, his Aggregates series has now settled into recognizable stardom; these are going to end up in museums. A new diptych extends his illusionistic folds across a pair of images (one monochrome, one gridded), interlocking the lines across the frames. Lucas Blalock’s works are outsiders to this parade of physicality, but their jittering reconfigurations of flat space are continuing to deftly mix obviousness with impenetrability. A new cactus fans out into perplexing angled repetitions, while a stone wall dissolves into digitally recut mystery.

The others in the show feel a step or two behind, with Josh Kolbo and Ethan Greenbaum starting to gather steam. Kolbo’s extra large, two-sided compendium of Pringles, fingers, and pulleys/strings has a lovely curve, exposing an image of glass enclosed pool balls on the reverse side. His previous works have been displayed in muscular metal racking (the images often with a leathery textural surface), and his ideas around billowing and looped folding feel like the beginning of something intriguing. Greenbaum’s molded plastic images of close-up sidewalks are getting more and more bold and textural; a new diptych plays with the paint and tar of a crosswalk, transforming the flat, high contrast two dimensionality of the photograph into a dense bubbled surface that you desperately want to run your hand across.

The works by Kate Steciw, Chris Wiley, and Matt Keegan are also pushing forward and incorporating new innovations. Steciw’s recent works have left the walls entirely, now hanging from the ceiling and set on the floor with rolling metal casters; cut through geometric blocks are further disrupting her swirls of stock imagery. The photographs in Chris Wiley’s newest Dingbats have become denser and less pared down, with clashing geometrics and playful strawberries pushing the volume up further (the vinyl cutouts of marble affixed directly to the wall seem like a step backward). And Matt Keegan has added a layer of silkscreened plexi, creating two parallel planes that draw his sidewalk grate out into three dimensional space.

Seen together, this show is a well edited, on trend sampler of current thinking; it generally gets it right in terms of the who and what. The challenge this group collectively faces next is how to continue to grow now that they have begun to achieve some level of recognition. While there are flashes of newness to be found here for those following the details, many will see this show as a rehash of work we’ve seen in the past few years. With widening acceptance by the larger mainstream (as evidenced by this venue), these artists need to crank it up and raise their games if they are going to start to play in the big leagues. Not all of these folks are going to make that jump, but we’ve now reached the time when emerging needs to evolve into established, and that will only come with sustained and consistent refinement and innovation.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows:

  • Lucas Blalock: $3000 and $7000
  • Ethan Greenbaum: $7500
  • John Houck: $14000 (diptych) and $16000
  • Matt Keegan: $7000 and $9000
  • Josh Kolbo: $16000
  • Kate Steciw: $6000 and $6500
  • Chris Wiley: $8500 each
  • Letha Wilson: $6000, $8000, and $9000

None of these artists has developed consistent secondary market activity to date, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Chris Wiley, Ethan Greenbaum, John Houck, Josh Kolbo, Kate Steciw, Letha Wilson, Lucas Blalock, Matt Keegan, Hauser & Wirth

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