JTF (just the facts): A total of 37 photographs, generally unframed, and displayed against white walls in the main gallery space and the entry area.
The following works are included in the show:
- 1 set of 28 c-prints, 2004-2005, dimensions variable, in editions of 6
- 1 set of 5 inkjet prints on archival paper, 2016, each 10×8 inches, in editions of 6
- 1 c-print, 2019-2020, 14×11 inches, in an edition of 15+2AP
- 3 Lambda prints, 2001-2006, each 20×24 inches, in editions of 6
- 1 mixed media (book return slot), 2021, dimensions variable, in an edition of 3+1AP
- 1 found aluminum sign, 2019, 13×33 inches, unique
Also on view in the Alphabet City group show (in the back gallery space):
- 1 set of 26 inkjet prints on archival paper, 2014-2016, each sized 10×8, in editions of 6+1AP
(Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: For the better part of the past twenty years, the Venezuelan photographer Luis Molina-Pantin has been making acute observations of the world around him. His eye has consistently been archly deadpan, the kind that makes seemingly unassuming, straightforward views of buildings or found objects, often arranging them into groups and categories. But his works are hardly neutral or passive; instead, they ask us to recognize the contradictions and absurdities that lie right on the surface, apparently undetected in the rhythms of everyday life.
We first came across Molina-Pantin’s work in his smart 2018 photobook Testimonies of Corruption (reviewed here), which took a biting look at Venezuela’s failed banking system. He approached the hard-to-photograph topic from a variety of angles, applying his aloof gaze to the storefronts of failed banks, a selection of their giveaway piggybanks, an array of banking logos, and a series of withdrawn Venezuelan banknotes, among other subjects. The result was an understated indictment, looking back at surfaces and symbols that now have the ring of ridiculousness.
This gallery show fills in the wider arc of Molian-Pantin’s artistic career in the past two decades, with examples from a handful of different projects. His arms length stance seems to have originated with his 2004-2005 project on the “narco-architecture” found in Cali and Bogota, in Colombia. Posing as a real estate photographer, Molina-Pantin visited numerous sites where drug money was laundered through construction projects. The aesthetic choices found in these parks, homes, and buildings leans toward the overtly ostentatious and gaudily over-the-top, with homes built to look like castles, car dealerships with elaborate domes like the U.S. Capitol, and parks filled with marble mountains, winged horses, Taj-Mahal-style pavilions, and Grecian temples, all mixed together for maximum visual effect.
Molina-Pantin’s photographs document these locations almost like the gathering of evidence, the centaurs, white balconies, and curved glass facades standing out (and some might say shouting corruption) in the otherwise humble surroundings. He also tracks down the private club built by a co-founder of the Cali cartel (when he was rejected by the more exclusive club he wanted to join), the half-finished, poorly constructed condos and damaged apartment buildings that now lie like empty abandoned hulks in the urban fabric, and the discount drug chain openly used for laundering (and the repeated venue for terrorist acts by competing cartels.) Seen together, the images amount to both excessive monuments to ego and intimidating symbols of power, the architecture so preposterous (or shoddy) that it is impossible to ignore.
More recently, Molina-Pantin has applied his eye for overlooked, culturally-resonant absurdity to a series of tightly cropped images of Mexican doorbells and intercoms. Almost by definition, a doorbell is meant to be a welcoming device, one that is easily found and used to alert the homeowner to the presence of a visitor. But Molina-Pantin’s doorbells and buzzers are all hidden behind elaborate iron screens and grates, with only the tiniest space available for a single finger to touch a button. Apparently, these doorbell devices are consistently stolen and vandalized in Mexico, and so homeowners have resorted to building protective coverings around them. Such devices (and their defenses) also signal social status, sending visual messages of intentional exclusivity.
Installed up above one of the gallery doorways, another recent work doubles down on the absurdity it documents. The image shows a selection of First Aid kits and medical boxes installed above a doorway, essentially out of reach for the normal person, which of course, defeats the purpose of having them handy in case of an emergency. It’s a single image work, but its obvious strangeness is just the kind of everyday oddity that Molina-Pantin has consistently searched for over the years.
In the back gallery space (and installed as part of a separate group show), a grid of works by Molina-Pantin turns found book covers into an alphabet. Similar in underlying instinct to Lee Friedlander’s “Letters from the People”, Molina-Pantin has methodically uncovered secondhand books with large single letters on the cover, building them up into a complete image taxonomy of the alphabet. The individual still life photographs of the books are graphically bold and colorful, and when assembled into a makeshift grid, create an alternate sense of order and meaning out of the otherwise unrelated finds.
Again and again across his artistic career, Molina-Pantin has consistently infused straightforward photographs with conceptual cleverness and insight, encouraging us to see beyond the surface simplicity of his subject matter. He’s asked us to look harder, and with a somewhat more skeptical eye, to wrestle with more complex realities that lie underneath. Instead of giving us winking postmodern recontextualization, he’s given us matter-of-fact incongruity, and encouraged us to openly call it what it really is. That unvarnished truth telling gives his works a refreshing sense of clarity, even when what he’s presented looks altogether perplexing.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced in various groupings and in various sizes. Individual prints in smaller sizes are generally $2800 each, while a full set of the architecture prints ranges all the way up to $35000. Molina-Pantin’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.