JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 large scale color photographs, mounted and unframed, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are pigment prints face mounted to Diasec, made between 1994 and 2012. The prints are shown in three different sizes: 24×20 (in editions of 5 or 6+2AP), 40×30 (in editions of 6 or 10+2AP) and 60×50 (in editions of 5 or 6+2AP). there are 6 prints in the largest size, 7 prints in the middle size, and 4 prints in the smallest size on display. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: I have seen and written about the work of the Dutch photographer Hendrik Kerstens several times over the past few years, so I was certainly aware of what I would likely encounter when visiting his newest show (post Sandy flooding) at Danziger Gallery. But I have to say I was totally and utterly surprised when I walked into the gallery. His portraits have been transformed into glossy objects – rather than being shown in traditional nondescript black frames, they are printed large and face mounted to Diasec like the work of many of the Dusseldorf and Helsinki school graduates. For me, it was an electric wow moment, the push and pull of old and new in his photographs energized and amplified by the modern presentation.
The show is a mini-retrospective sampler of Kerstens’ work, going all the way back to his early portraits of his daughter Paula and mixing in brand new images from the past year or two. It traces both her transformation (from young girl into young woman) and his ongoing refinement of craft and technique. For those unfamiliar with Kerstens’ approach, suffice it to say that he has brewed up an original alchemical mix of painting and photography, borrowing traditional dark background poses, the careful handling of light, and the subtle treatment of skin from the masters of Dutch portraiture and blending them together with anachronistic modern props and accessories, creating graceful photographic portraits that look and feel like museum treasures and then abruptly upend your sense of order. At this point, the Marie Antoinette bubble wrap headdress, the plastic shopping bag cap, the cloth napkin wimple, and the paper towel roll turban have all become contemporary classics.
The good news is that Kerstens’ pictures are getting better and better. New portraits of Paula find her sporting a drooped cake icing spout, a thick stack of paper doilies that perfectly mimics a starched lace collar, and a flyaway high pointed bonnet in silvery aluminum foil. There’s even a rearing equestrian portrait (with a nod to David) with Paula calmly looking over her shoulder. Given the large size of these prints and the new mounting approach, the works hold the wall with tremendous authority, while still retaining their sense of reserve and refinement.
I think the durable excitement of these works lies in their uncertain, shifting dialogue between competing forces: painting and photography, traditional cultural icons and modern realities, sober seriousness and sly wit, celebrating and undermining. They are at once classically beautiful and sublimely ridiculous, which ensures they won’t ever be boring.
Collector’s POV: The images in this show are priced based on size and place in the edition. The 24×20 prints range from $8000 to $18000, the 40×30 prints start at $12000 and go up to $75000, and the 60×50 prints begin at $22000 and rise to a lofty $160000. These prices are a significant step up from previous prices I have seen and likely represent broadening demand for his work. Kerstens’ work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.