James Welling, Overflow @David Zwirner

JTF (just the facts): A total of 42 black and white and color works, framed in white and matted, and hung in two connected gallery spaces and a smaller side room down an adjacent hallway. 29 of the prints come from the series Wyeth, made between 2010 and 2012. All of these works are archival inkjet prints on rag paper, available in editions of 5. The prints come in one of two sizes (or reverse): 16×24 (with one at 18×16) or 28×42; each image is available either small or large, but not both. There are 19 in the smaller size and 10 in the larger size on view. The front gallery contains 6 abstract works from the series Fluid Dynamics, made between 2009 and 2012. These are archival inkjet prints, available in editions of 5, sized either 48×40 or 52×40. The side room contains 7 works from the Frolic Architecture project, made in conjunction with poet Susan Howe in 2010 and 2011. These are gelatin silver prints, in editions of 3 or 4, sized either 18×14 or 22×17. This room also contains a glass case with several copies of the related book. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: James Welling’s newest show combines three recent projects that all revolve around the relationship between photography and painting. It’s evidence of complex thinking, of dissecting and reconsidering how the two mediums can interact, both in the physical gesture and in the pictorial scaffolding.

The main body of the exhibit is made up of images from Welling’s project channeling Andrew Wyeth. Welling traveled to various locations in Maine and Pennsylvania to visit landmarks, recreate certain scenes, explore the artist’s studio, and generally immerse himself in Wyeth’s environment and mindset. The result is a set of pictures which are quintessentially New England, spare and unadorned, simple and quietly intense: a dark shingled saltbox looms against the grey sky, a set of white framed windows frosted with misty ice, a chimney rising from a pitched roof, a barn flanked by scrubby grass and wildflower meadows. Interiors echo with empty stillness: a doorknob, a rustic cabinet, Wyeths’ dry pigments, a cup and saucer. The project is at once an investigation of place and a communing with the painter’s tactile sense of formal precision. Even the scenes which are not direct recreations feel etched with the same sense of pared down care and acute attention.

The other two projects on view are process driven photographic abstractions, images made from chemicals and wet paper, full of drips, swirls, splotches, and gestural motion. The Fluid Dynamics series starts with this kind of darkroom experimentation and then layers digital color gradients on top of the images later; a few underlying compositions become the basis for several color riffs, almost like satellite photos or fractals, from soft ice white, to pink and light blue, to copper brown and darker blue. The works in side room also turn on this painterly kind of craftsmanship, but this time in gelatin silver, with folds, lines and washes of ghostly white flowing into light-filled grey abstractions. Both sets of images are physical (almost sculptural), playing with movement and fluidity in the depths of the process.

On the surface, the bodies of work in this show could hardly be more different. And yet I took away a common sense of probing, of looking at painting in all kinds of ways, of parsing it down in search of its relevance to photography. Welling is clearly an artist who is thinking rigorously and systematically, who is constantly unpacking his influences and rebuilding his tool box from the ground up.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The images from the Wyeth series are either $15000 (16×24) or $22000 (28×42). The larger works from the Fluid Dynamics series are $25000 and the smaller ones from the Frolic Architecture series are $12000. Welling’s photographs have been become more available in the secondary markets in recent years, with auction prices ranging between $2000 to $22000.

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