Hanno Otten, Corso @Janet Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 color photographs, unframed and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are digital pigment prints mounted on Dibond, made in 2022. Physical dimensions are roughly 10×24 inches each, and all of the works are available in editions of 3+1AP.

The show also includes 4 video works, shown in succession on a single monitor. Each of the video works was made in 2021 (edited by Werner Graf), is roughly 77 seconds in duration, and is available in an edition of 7+1AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: The elemental artistic impulse to continue tinkering and problem solving, and to follow ideas wherever they might lead, doesn’t always end within the neat boundaries of one medium. And given its own inherent aesthetic capabilities, photography has often provided the means for innovative cross-medium thinking. Photographs can of course simply document paintings, sculpture, and more time-based artistic efforts like performances and installations, but they can also enable an additional layer of active reinterpretation. A diverse range of artists (like Gerhard Richter, Constantin Brancusi, and others) have used light, shadow, enlargement, distortion, and other photographic effects to actively rethink their own works, essentially using their own marks and gestures as subject matter for layers of recursive reconsideration.

While Hanno Otten has been working as both a painter and photographer throughout his career, in recent years, he has been exploring the ways painted color can be reworked using photography. In a 2019 gallery show (reviewed here), he made enlarged photographic fragments of his own paintings, turning them into glossy swatches of color, which he then arranged into ordered groups and clusters. His results were both structured and surprisingly improvisational, as his colors shifted and wandered with effusiveness within the strict organizing framework he had created.

In a sense, this show picks up from where that one left off, and continues Otten’s exploration of using photography to reinterpret his paintings. In these newest works, he has once again isolated colorful fragments, but this time he has opted for a long, wide format (not unlike a panorama) and matched his selections to the available space. Scattered across the walls on the gallery space, the installation feels almost digital, like dashes of color, isolated pixels, or the patterning of ancient computer punch cards.

Several of the compositions are two color bands, arrayed horizontally like elemental seascapes or horizon lines. Variation in the brushwork creates the appearance of change or movement, with flecks of orange inhabiting an undulating “sea” of yellow, and mottled pinks swirling and floating amid the clouds in a dark purple “sky”. These bisected compositions pop with pared down vibrancy, often with near opposites on the color wheel paired together.

In another group of pictures, Otten encourages more blur, creating the appearance of swift movement across the fields of color. Again, the insistent horizontals accentuate this feeling of motion, softening the colors into more misted approximations and seemingly ephemeral tones. Still other works add this blurring effect to fragments with tiny vertical scratching, creating an up and down rhythm that tussles with the larger horizontal stripes underneath. These works feel almost reflected, or at least broken apart into layers with more spatial depth.

“Corso 11” is the most complex work in the show, bringing together various stripes of color in a stacked sandwich of red, green, yellow, and a nuanced range of other colors. Its layers seem to never quite find equilibrium, instead settling into a pleasingly indeterminate state where the colors feel fluid, like they are slowly drifting by our fixed frame of reference.

This idea of pacing comes though more clearly in a series of short video works, where a parade of backlit colors flash from one to another using different kinds of transitions. Some flicker with quickness, others are a bit more methodical, and a few use softer fades and dissolves rather than sharp cuts between hues. Seen as a group, the works feel like studies of the properties of sequencing, both of how one color affects our perception of the ones before and after it in the series, and how timing of the changes between colors alters our experience of the larger flow.

It must be an intriguingly inward intellectual process to unravel the strands of your own expressiveness, and that is exactly what Otten is doing as he deliberately crops small shards out of his larger canvases – the process must force him to see connections between colors and pathways of intention that might have felt improvisational or even intuitive at the time when the paint was still wet. To then intervene further with other photographic effects turns the crank again, pushing and pulling the aesthetics in alternate directions. In the final works, he’s placed one set of medium-specific abstractions atop another, making the color stories he’s telling even more malleable.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $2000 each, while the video works are $1500 each. Otten’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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