Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, BQMB @Saul

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 large scale color images, generally framed in black with no mat and hung in the entry and main gallery spaces. All of the works are pigment ink prints, most mounted on sintra (two are face mounted to plexi and luster laminate respectively). Physical dimensions range from 20×48 to 60×96, with several images printed in the 30×72 size. Edition sizes vary from 4 to 12. The works on display come from a number of different photographic projects and commissions, and were made between 2005 and 2010. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: If you walk into Jeff ChienHsing Liao’s show at Julie Saul Gallery and do a five second visual scan of the photographs on the walls, your first reaction might very well be “panoramas of New York, seen this kind of thing before, time to move on”. Times Square, the Cyclone at Coney Island, you know the drill. But if you resist the temptation to walk right back out and instead stand up close to these images and look at them for several minutes, the works will reveal a depth of detail that is entirely unexpected and therefore initially quite puzzling.

What you’ll then begin to realize is that these images are not standard, boring panoramas but actually meticulous digital composites of dozens of large format images, seamlessly integrated into wide views that capture far more than human vision can normally handle. They reminded me of the work of Clifford Ross, where a viewer can dive deeper and deeper into nearly any section of an image and the details remain crisp and sharp, even though normal photographs often become blurred or distorted on the periphery.

Liao has applied this technique to two basic types of compositions: bird’s eye views that capture the broader context of the local urban fabric, and street level views that chronicle the chaotic melting pot of crowded humanity in New York’s neighborhoods and public spaces. I particularly enjoyed the elevated views of the city’s changing baseball stadiums and the surrounding landscape of Queens and the Bronx. The works capture the expansive density of city planning, of roadways and rail lines slashing through endless low rise developments, warehouses and non-descript blocks, with old and new juxtaposed and continually evolving over time. They successfully document the vibrant scope of the boroughs – the landmarks and gathering places as well as the warren of everyday streets and commercial districts.

I think the challenge for Liao lies in using his obvious technical skills to make durable and memorable images about the changing nature of these New York neighborhoods without falling into the trap of overly-easy eye-catching gimmicks. His technical approach offers the ability to construct complicated, multi-layered stories and to show us the conflicts, contrasts and personalities that we take for granted in this complex city; his tools offer him the potential to expose facets of our lives we haven’t seen before. As a result, this show seems most like a promise, a gathering of current evidence (with a few early highlights) that makes me anticipate what will come next as he digs even deeper.

Collector’s POV: The prints on display in this show range in price from $5000 to $14500, with many intermediate prices ($5800, $7000, $8500, $10000, and $11000) apparently based on relative size or place in the edition. Liao’s work has only recently begun to enter into the secondary markets, so no real pricing pattern can be discerned from the few lots that have come up for sale. As such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Reviews: New Yorker (here), DART (here), NYTimes, 2009 (here)
  • Urban Panoramas @Getty, 2010 (here)
  • Book: Habitat 7 (here)

Jeff ChienHsing Liao, BQMB
Through October 28th

Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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