JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space. All of the works are platinum-palladium prints, made in 1981-1982 and 1997. Physical sizes are either 8×10 or 12×20, and the prints are available in editions of 10, 15, or 20. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Jan Groover’s industrial landscapes ought to be better known than they are. Wedged in among her more famous tabletop still lifes and kitchen sink jumbles, these pictures have tended to get overlooked – they’re too subtle and unassuming to draw attention away from her bigger and brighter compositions, but no less formally accomplished or masterfully printed. They ask the viewer to slow down, as their formal intricacies and tactile pleasures require sustained attention.
Groover made most of these pictures in New York and New Jersey in the early 1980s (with another group made in France a decade later), so it’s not entirely surprising that she pointed her camera at the silence of abandoned factories, weedy vacant lots, isolated construction trailers, and sandy cut throughs – it’s what was nearby, and it was largely the same subject matter that Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams had been investigating just a few years earlier. But Groover was a tried and true formalist, so her rail lines, sidewalks, and bridge overpasses sparkle with the precise clarity of Albert Renger-Patzsch, even if the buildings and roads were decaying ruins rather than shining aspirational icons of modernity. Many of her views turn receding lines of perspective into slashing angles (the edge of a factory, the extension of a chain link fence, a disappearing sidewalk), with shadows, telephone poles, road signs, and even the open back of a pickup truck used to decorate and interrupt the converging compositional lines.
Groover’s affinity for delicate drawing papers gives most of these prints an almost mottled surface (especially in the sky), their softening texture recalling the feeling of meticulous etchings rather than contrasty photographs. But make no mistake, these aren’t retro Pictorialist mannered blurs – on the contrary, every thin line and pile of sand is intensely crisp, but somehow muted just a bit by the fragility of the printing process. The fact that gradients of crumbling dirt, furrowed tire tracks, and falling down fences can be so engrossing is a testament to her observant concentration on surfaces – it’s like she’s turned the landscape into a still life, crafting it with the same care she applied to her studio constructions.
I think these images can easily hold their own with everything from streamlined 1920s Bauhaus architecture studies to hectoring New Topographics manmade alterations and suburban sprawl. Her industrials find a personal middle ground that is signature Groover – controlled, formal, and breathtakingly elegant. While these pictures may have been largely overshadowed by her other photographic successes, they deserve to be rediscovered.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show priced based on size, with the 8×10 prints at $12000 and the 12×20 prints at $10000. Groover’s work has not been routinely available in the secondary markets in recent years, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.