Florian Maier-Aichen @303 Gallery

JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 large scale color photographs, generally framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are c-prints, made in 2020, 2022, or 2023. Physical sizes are either roughly small (30×34,  39×32 inches), medium (49×62, 50×62 inches), or large (92×72, 87×67, 66×86, 74×55 inches), and all the prints are available in editions of 3+2AP. (Installation and detail shots below.)

Comments/Context: Even a passing glance at Florian Maier-Aichen’s grand landscapes is enough to notice that something isn’t quite right. His mountain vistas and beach sunsets initially seem altogether familiar, since many of his subjects have been repeatedly photographed by past masters and tourists alike, but then his pictures veer off into a region of unpredictability, filled with flared rainbows of separated or overlapped color where we least expect them. Suddenly, the most predictable of romanticized landscapes feels somehow unstable.

For nearly two decades now, Maier-Aichen has been methodically unraveling these kinds of landscapes, intentionally pulling apart the photographic foundations that underlie them and reassembling them in new ways. And while the German photographer’s techniques aren’t always entirely decipherable, the works in this show seem to include combinations of sandwiched tri-color separations (a Maier-Aichen favorite), infrared exposures, long exposures, and double exposures, as well as flashes of watercolor or chemical washing, all brought together to disrupt and disorient our collective assumptions about how photographs function.

Thanks to Ansel Adams, and to the 19th century photographers who came before him (Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, and others), the waterfalls at Yosemite National Park in northern California have become icons of the American landscape, photographed from afar and up close in countless varieties and permutations. But here Maier-Aichen has taken those familiar waterfalls and upended them, one with a mysteriously shifted doubling, the other with a closer in view of a misty form dappled with splotches of pink watercolor. Both images feel expressively open, like riffing on a recognizable melody and pushing it somewhere new.

Time dilation is an inherent component of Maier-Aichen’s tricolor process, with the RGB exposures made separately and then reassembled. But in two images of the valley underneath the Grand Teton mountain range in Wyoming extend this time experimentation out much further. One hour-long exposure creates a soft horizontal cotton-candy striping across the view, the peaks themselves crisp but the intermediate light shifted and blurred. In another image, the mountains are encouraged to drift toward dark silhouettes, with a blister of rainbow hue in the mottled sky and staccato sweeps of moving light down in the valley.

When Maier-Aichen turns his attention to the beaches of Malibu in California, or coastal sunsets more broadly, other textures seem to naturally come forth. The ebb and flow of beach waves turns into a frothy white swirl, crashing waves against rocks seem to decompose into alternate versions and wispy ghosts, and a sunset blasts out into a reflected rainbow glow against an enveloping dark stillness. In each case, a visual cliche has been re-energized, transformed from the obvious into the puzzlingly sublime.

Over the years, Maier-Aichen has also experimented with allowing some of these techniques to run all the way to complete abstraction, where gestural movements and washes of color become compositional tools. In a pair of new works, he borrows a punched-hole approach from Christopher Bucklow, where small perforations in a board allow pinpricks of light to peek through; when then skewed by Maier-Aichen’s other color processes, the works wander toward approximations of cosmic skyscapes filled with colorful clusters of stars and galaxies.

This is a tighter and more consistently thought provoking selection of works than we have seen from Maier-Aichen in several years. Starting with a baseline of breaking down or technically deconstructing photographic seeing, it then asks how can we re-imagine that vision to contemplate our world with more richness and complexity. The new landscapes feel unsettled in ways that imply parallel worlds or alternate experiences taking place simultaneously, where previously invisible forces have now become apparent. And the new abstractions turn color into a cloudy all-over sparkle, crafting a fresh color vocabulary out of flickers, glimmers, and glows. Together, the show feels like a better balance of experiment and application than before, where past learnings have informed Maier-Aichen’s methods for turning disaggregated color into something with intellectual heft and aesthetic nuance.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $25000, $45000, or $60000, based on size. Maier-Aichen’s work has become consistently available in the secondary markets in the past decade, with recent prices ranging between $10000 and $180000.

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