JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung in the divided gallery space. 15 of the works are unique chromogenic color photograms, sized between 16×12 and 20×87. The other 9 works are chromogenic color prints, sized either 16×12 or 77×52; these prints are available in editions of 3. The images were made between 2001 and 2013. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: When we talk about color in photography, we are rarely discussing it in truly scientific terms. We throw around words like hue, and saturation, and lightness as handy descriptors for the color of the sunset, or a truck, or a pattered dress we are seeing, all without really acknowledging their specific definitions in the space of academic color theory. But from the moment you walk into Hanno Otten’s new show, it is obvious that his interest in color is something entirely more systematic than we are generally accustomed to. Bright abstract color erupts from the walls, perfect for springtime, but deeply rooted in an intellectual study of the properties of colored light.
The earliest works on view (from roughly a decade ago) are built up from overlapped layers of strips and rectangles, where transparent blocks hover over vertical stripes, creating changing combinations of additive color. While photograms have traditionally included an element of chance, Otten’s works feel rigorously precise – there are edges that are misaligned and touching, but these help explain the color transitions going on. These works then evolve into more blocked compositions that look a little like stained glass windows or harlequin patterns. There is more a sense of angle in these images, of parallelograms interlocking into slightly misaligned flatness. Other works from the same period play with bold layers of loose concentric circles that telescope inward with shimmering energy, like the poster from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Otten’s most recent works step out of the darkroom and reconsider the layered color of one of his own large abstract paintings. Starting with scans of the entire surface, he has then cropped the photographs down to smaller up-close fragments, in effect reprocessing the color washed across the canvas. The end result is compositions that are less hard edged and strict, that softly shift from one colored horizontal band to the next.
These works place Otten in direct dialogue with Jessica Eaton, Walead Beshty, and even Gerhard Richter’s recent digital pattern making. They are each testing the limits of photographic color, paring down to Albers-like purity and then lifting the constraints to allow for new experimentation.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $3000 to $15000, generally based on size and whether the image is unique or editioned. Otten’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.