Jan Dibbets, Work: 1970-1984 @Peter Freeman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space. All of the works are comprised of sets of color photographs, generally mounted/matted together on a single board, often with graphite, ink, watercolor, acrylic, or other markings. There are sets of 9, 10, 4/11 (collaged), 13, 16, 20, 80, and an unknown number on view, made between 1970 and 1984. Physical sizes range from roughly 20×26 to 177×236, and all of the works are unique. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Few photographers have systematically explored the optics of photography with as much conceptual precision as Jan Dibbets. This show gathers together a selection of his multi-image works from the 1970s and 1980s, providing a crisp sampler of the controlled visual issues he has spent his career exploring. Each work is a carefully executed exercise, where exact mathematics influence the artistic outcome just as much as the landscape in front of the lens.

Three works on view here use the panorama as an organizing principle, slicing floor tiles, an interior view of the ancient temple columns at Paestum, and the expansive beach at Bloemendaal into component parts, which have then been meticulously reassembled to create spanning (in some cases nearly 360 degree) collages. Unlike David Hockney’s almost Cubist compositions of overlapped photographs, Dibbets’ works offer no jittering multi-dimensionality; the vantage point stays rigidly fixed and each image is tuned to capture the exact angle required for perfect alignment of the larger whole. There is nothing improvisational about these projects at all – they are painstaking constructions that require faultless specificity to manage the inherent distortions and create the visual outcomes Dibbets wants. They fully embrace the technical architecture of photography, building larger images up from controlled building blocks.

Dibbets has applied the same strict accuracy to a progression of tilted-horizon seaside angles, a composite canal landscape made up of inverted tree reflections, and an expressive, wall-filling arc of paired land/sky images. The first turns an ordinary sea and sky view on its side, creating a perfect diagonal that methodically stripes its way from lower left to upper right, allowing more sky into the frame with each step, unlocking a simple hidden geometry that feels smartly energetic. The last creates a gloriously intelligent comet out of the repetitions of a mundane landscape, each step in the fractal upward chain resized until the final pair at the top is an extremely thin rectangle; it has the visual brilliance of a grand design, where smooth elegance is derived from complex inner workings.

While some might find a few of these projects too dryly conceptual for their tastes, the best of the works here feel like the intricate machinations of a Swiss watchmaker – they exhibit a mastery of both craft and conception that is hard not admire. Dibbets’ unique brand of photoconceptualism isn’t wry, funny, or deliberately illusionistic. Instead, it asks us to closely examine exactly how we see, and then uses those thoughtful learnings to construct hybrid images, extending beyond our usual visual boundaries with purpose and understated grace.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $60000 to $1000000. Dibbets’ work has not been widely available in the secondary markets in recent years. While a couple of lower priced lots have come up for sale during that time, no meaningful pricing pattern can be extrapolated from so few data points. As such, gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Jan Dibbets, Peter Freeman, Inc.

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