JTF (just the facts): A total of 6 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two front rooms of the divided gallery space. All of the works are unique chemical treatments on RA-4 paper, made in 2015. Physical sizes range from 45×50 to 76×50, with jagged edges. The show also includes a selection of glazed stoneware sculptures by Jennie Jieun Lee. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: While this is a paired two-person show with only a handful of works by Mariah Robertson on view, it still gives us a chance to catch up on what she’s been doing since her last New York gallery show in 2013 (here). Her newest camera-less photograms feel more refined than her last works – the improvisationally messy splash and wash of chemicals and the assembled hints of recognizable forms have been pared away here, bringing her back to the elemental essence of colored light and the streamlined interruptions that create chance-driven abstraction. It’s as if she’s consciously dialed back the theatrical expressiveness, opting for something more thoughtfully controlled and sophisticated.
Using cardboard cutouts as her tools (some with a perforated edge like a pizza box), Robertson has built these new works on repetition and iteration. The gestural process in the dark must feel something like pitch and catch – move the cardboard, turn on the light (briefly), turn off the light, fractionally move the cardboard once again, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and do so literally dozens of times across the surface of the paper. When her movements are tightly bunched together, the curve of the cardboard turns into something like shimmering waves or maybe blurred sequins, the layers of changing colors and soft under shadows intermingling. When she pushes the cardboard more in each small step, the result is a stuttering visual effect of black negative space, where jittering repeating lines pile up, like falling dominoes. And when she twists and turns the cutouts with more drama, the forms start to overlap like fish scales or woven roof tiles, the blushed shadows adding color to the dominant opaque whiteness. She’s exploring the creation of space and depth in these works, where before much of the action was taking place on the surface.
While Robertson’s previous images had a kind of all-over, at-the-edge-of-control brashness that was often infectious, these works feel more interested in the methodical progression of time, where deeper attention is being paid to each additive action. Her compositions still thrum with visual vitality, but it’s a cleaner, more deliberate kind of experimentation. If the word mature can be used as a compliment rather than an insult, these photograms feel more mature and confident, less dependent on an explosion of force taking place in the darkroom and more certain that a commitment to the process will yield something of elegance and electricity. The works feel built, with an emphasis on time spent, rather than an alchemy of momentary serendipitous luck.
A half a dozen works isn’t really enough to take stock of Robertson’s current mindset, but if this small sampler is any indication of how she is reinventing her own brand of risk-taking expressiveness, she’s clearly boiling it down, reducing it to its critical component parts, and then playing with a more limited set of variables. It’s a path that will likely lead to further investigations of geometries and colors, as well as a turn toward a more minimal lyricism that eschews the flinging and scribbling of old. Change is in the air in Robertson’s work, and these few examples are promising evidence that she is carving out new creative white space to explore.
Collector’s POV: The unique works by Mariah Robertson in this show range in price from $14000 to $20000, with several intermediate prices, based on size. Robertson’s work has just begun to enter the secondary markets in the past few years. Prices for those few lots have ranged between roughly $5500 and $10000, but given the small number of transactions, gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.