JoAnn Verburg, For Now @Pace

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 photographic and 3 video works, hung against white walls in series of connected spaces on the 3rd floor of the gallery.

Photographs:

  • 1 pigment print mounted to Dibond, 2021, sized roughly 57×40 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 pigment print mounted to Dibond, 2021, sized roughly 62×44 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 pigment print mounted to Dibond, 2018, sized roughly 49×35 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 pigment print mounted to Dibond, 2020, sized roughly 40×29 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 pigment print mounted to Dibond, 2020, sized roughly 34×48 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 2-panel work – two pigment prints each mounted to board, 2018, panels sized roughly 20×14, 20×16 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 2-panel work – two pigment prints each mounted to board, 2020, panels sized roughly 50×35, 20×16 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 3-panel work – three pigment prints each mounted to Dibond, 2020, panels sized roughly 40×28 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 3-panel work – three pigment prints each mounted to Dibond, 2020, panels sized roughly 40×28 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 3-panel work – three pigment prints each mounted to Dibond, 2019, panels sized roughly 50×36 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 3-panel work – three pigment prints each mounted to Dibond, 2019, panels sized roughly 61×43 inches, in an edition of 5+2AP

Videos:

  • 1 3-panel video – three video loops and sound, 2017-2018, each panel sized roughly 44×26 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 3-panel video – three video loops and sound, 2018-2019, each panel sized roughly 44×26 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 5-panel video – five video loops and sound, 2018-2020, each panel sized roughly 28×16 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: JoAnn Verburg’s show of new work seems to exist in an alternate mode of time than that of our current overstimulated world. There is no rushing, or hustling, or anxiety, or can’t-get-it-all-done frustration in any of her pictures; instead, her multi-panel photographs and videos linger in a mood of deliberate stillness, where measured contemplation and quiet reflection actually have room to blossom. For some, this slower pace of patient, attentive observation will feel like a charming throwback to simpler times; for others, Verburg’s sedate visual cadence might just offer the antidote needed to heal our lives of constant distraction.

To declare that Verburg’s new works are of or about olive trees is to engage in exactly the kind of overly easy fly by thinking that she’s diligently working to upend. Yes, these photographs and videos do literally feature olive trees, as seen in Italy, Israel, and California, but their subject isn’t really the trees themselves, but the spaces in between, the tiny gestures of the leaves and branches, the rhythms of the surrounding moments of serenity, and the planes of photographic seeing that Verburg has employed to document them. There’s quite a bit more going on here than a quick wander through the galleries might initially suggest.

Verburg’s multi-panel photographs are the most successful works on view, largely because they best show off the subtle sophistication of her visual craftsmanship. In two and three panel works, she places the prints edge to edge, forcing us to realize that they are not a single exposure neatly divided into two or three parts; they are instead two or three separate and distinct moments that have been aligned (by where she placed the camera) to make the edge areas appear almost continuous or just slightly overlapping. The effect is a jittering sense of almost simultaneity, where the panels are versions of the same truth, perhaps shifted, angled, or even timed slightly differently, like a version of photographic multi-perspective Cubism, but muted to be almost imperceptible.

Up close, things get a bit wilder. Using the tilt and shift of her 5×7 camera, she deftly moves the focal plane around the compositions, tucking it behind a foreground branch or clump of leaves, pulling it in front of background hillsides, or pushing it into thickets of tree trunks and dappled light. Her command of the blur in these pictures is precise (particularly when used as a lovely frontal interrupter), each panel offering an alternate version of where our attention should be drawn. This meticulousness of photographic craft turns these landscapes into still lifes, where Verburg is deliberately rebalancing areas of softness and clarity to create the specific effects and overall atmosphere she wants.

In many of these works, the dissonance between simple illusion of the panels working together and the reality of the panels operating independently is enough to crack open our process of looking. In 3 X THREE, the darkest branches lure us into seeing one integrated view, but then the subtle flares of light through the leaves in the three panels are different, tipping us off that something more complicated is going on, which is when Verburg then pulls into hollows of focus that wander across the three frames. THREE TO ONE plays with a similar light effect, using the orange light of the afternoon to drift across the triptych, seeming to come to rest on the far right. IN MOTION and DOUPLE DIP push our vision toward the gestures implied by the twisting tendrils of leaves and branches, where the silver leaves are alternately made into something akin to energetic all-over brushstrokes (punctuated by a few broad swirling lines) and placed against the soft twilight to create a more silhouetted set of gently blurred dark marks.

When Verburg moves to video, she trades in the tools of meticulous focus control for the alternate possibilities of motion and sound. In 3 and 5 panel loops, she uses fixed camera positions to document the olive groves, building them up into wide friezes of layered landscape. Foreground trees offer us the detail of their sculptural gnarled bark and the wispy movement of their thin branches, while the background areas appear essentially static. As the mist rolls in, we hear the whisper of the wind in the leaves, the chirping and clicking of the birds, and the gentle roar of the relative silence. OLIVE TREES offers the most visible motion, with the foreground leaves pushed back and forth in circulating rhythms by the wind, while the other video views feel more unassuming and meditative, the sounds of the quiet spaces encouraging us to notice the calm passage of time. Steeped in slow looking, Verburg’s videos are resolutely experiential, the tiny details and changes suddenly looming large.

Verburg’s single images offer quite a bit less potential for visual multiplicity. In general, she uses the veiling effect of foreground branches to obscure people walking through the groves, never allowing the photographs to become portraits. In other images, she more overtly plays with the effects of dappled light and misty fog, and a wider span of focus, but the single works can’t create the stutter step of shifting vantage points that the multi-panel works can, and so feel a little flat in comparison.

Softly lit landscape views of olive trees have the potential to hit on any number of cloying visual clichés, but Verburg finds ways to make her views elusive. Both her photographs and videos wrestle with the twists and turns of time, getting inside multiple versions of the same scene to unlock hidden layers of elegant complexity. The best of these works feel both empty and surprisingly filled with complexity, encouraging a slowed down sensory experience. We don’t often use the vocabulary of music of describe photographs, but Verburg’s pictures have found just the right tempo, which allows them to expand into the quietly expansive openness of tranquil looking.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $15000 and $50000, based on size. Verburg’s work has little consistent secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by MACK Books (here). Embossed hard-cover with tip-in (17 x 24.5 cm); 72 pages with 37 monochrome and 4 color reproductions. Includes texts ... Read on.

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