JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in single room gallery space. The chromogenic prints come in two sizes: 10×8 (editions of 7) and 18×14 (editions of 5), with a few images also available in a 40×30 size (editions of 3). There are 8 images in the small size, 14 in the medium size, and 2 in the large size on display in the exhibit. The works were made between 2005 and 2011. A monograph of this body of work was published in 2011 by J&L Books (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: In Gregory Halpern’s photographic portrait of Rust Belt America, a sparkling piece of jewelry offered by a black gloved hand seems like an impossible treasure, a talisman of uncanny brilliance somehow blindingly inappropriate or just completely out of context in this dingy, downtrodden world. It refers to a better time, a time of luxury and wealth and optimism, but in these pictures, that time is long gone.
What Halpern has documented in these cities (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Omaha, and Detroit) is the beginning of the end, where wildness is creeping back into the realms of civilization. Faces are quietly defiant or meekly averted, wearing a mix of haggard, bloodied, and exhausted glances. Houses smolder with lingering fire, or crumble from decay and rot regardless of makeshift supports. Trees take on an almost sinister quality, triumphing over human pruning to win in the end. And feral cats and aggressive raccoons prowl the streets with an unabashed lack of fear; a peacock runs loose and blackbirds smother a tree in the eerie twilight. In these pictures, Halpern takes the broad economic challenges of these regions and turns them into smaller life and death struggles, a resilient battle between relentlessly persevering and giving in to the invading desolation. The inhabitants are reduced to scavengers, scratching out an existence against the raw tide of ruin.
Halpern’s photographs have a harsh lyricism that may make them hard for some collectors to warm up to. But they are soberly successful (especially in book form) in capturing the sense of helpless, slowly encroaching chaos that has overtaken some of our once great cities. In these worlds, when seen from the perspective of a lowly mouse, even a hissing kitty can seem ferociously predatory.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows: the 10×8 prints are $1200, the 18×14 prints are $2000, and the 40×30 prints are $3500. Halpern’s work has little or no secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.