JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 color photographs, framed in brown wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are chromogenic prints, made in 2012 and 2013. The prints come in three sizes: 12×12, 16×16, and 28×28, each in editions of 10. (Overly yellow installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Hellen van Meene’s newest portraits of young girls and dogs are exercises in less is more, muted refinement. Primarily set in a pared down, burlap walled studio environment containing only a single chair (alternately hard backed with a velvet cushion and upholstered), her photographs strip away extraneous details, centering our attention on faces, hair, textures, and the falling of pure light. Whether alone or in pairs/groups, her subjects (both human and animal) give us clues to their inner lives, but never quite open up.
Van Meene’s pairings are highly controlled and elegantly comfortable, without falling into the trap of being too look alike or matchy matchy. A thin girl with long hair is partnered with a streamlined whippet, while a pale girl with red hair sits with a rust colored vizsla. Van Meene seems to have had a veritable dog show of breeds at her disposal: mastiffs and wire haired dachshunds, basset hounds and Irish wolfhounds, all set in quiet contemplation with washed out girls in delicate, crumpled pastel dresses. A slumped form bent into the back of the chair, an angle of legs skewed out to the side, or the turn of a shoulder add formal nuance and a faint hint of personality to the simplicity of the standard hands in lap pose.
While drawing a connection to the traditions of Dutch painting seems overly obvious, van Meene’s portraits are certainly steeped in visual restraint and careful handling of light. Each image is built on tiny subtleties of expression and gesture, soaked in a hushed earthy palette. The best of the works on view move away from empty deadpan and instead give us a fleeting twinkle of life: the unexpectedly powerful stare of a confident tow head blonde or the graceful lines and gentle echoes of a long haired blonde and an Irish wolfhound with a white chest. Van Meene conjures her tension from a consistent sense of natural reserve, where the emotions of her sitters (both human and canine) fail to be entirely revealed. The lushness of her environment draws us in, but it is the unknowable honesty in the gazes that keeps us looking.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The 12×12 and 16×16 prints are $6000 each, and the 28×28 prints are $7500 each. Van Meene’s work has become intermittently available in the secondary markets in the past few years; prices have ranged from approximately $2000 to $6000.