Mariah Robertson, Hot Tropical Rain Jam @Museum 52

JTF (just the facts): A total of 5 large scale color works, framed in white and unmatted (except for the large installation which is alternately pinned to the wall and draped over a wooden rod), and hung/leaned in the small two room gallery space. All of the works are unique c-prints on metallic paper, made in 2011. The framed images are either “small” (59×74 or 81×51) or “large” (61×105 or reverse), while the installation work has dimensions of 1968×50 (if it was entirely unrolled). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This is the third time I’ve seen Mariah Robertson’s work in the past couple of years, and each time I see it, I come away more interested in what she is doing. I attribute this increasing attention on my part to the fact that the work is a significant and radical departure from most of the current commonly held tenets of contemporary photography. It is unabashedly analog, it is process and materials centric without being perfectionist or reverently recreationist, it disregards the traditional definition of a frame (when was the last time you saw a 150 foot long photograph?), and it is mixes abstraction and representation in an unorthodox manner, overlayed with a healthy dollop of gestural expressionism. In short, it’s about as contrarian as you could get in today’s over-sharpened digital world.

I’ve been racking my brain for analogies and precedents for Robertson’s work, and all I can come up with is a mash-up of Robert Rauschenberg’s silkscreen rebuses, Hy Hirsch’s visual music stills, and any number of photogram/darkroom experimenters, executed in one long Kerouac stream of consciousness flow (I would use the word expressionist more liberally here, but I think that this particular word has recently been co-opted in a photographic sense to mean painterly Photoshop smudges, which isn’t at all what this work is about). These works juxtapose saturated color blocks, chemical splashes, spills and drips, angular geometric shapes and stripes, negative images, and laser pen scratches into one fluid and hypnotic frieze, which is either chopped up into single ideas or allowed to run free in rhythmic metallic billows.

These newer works seem slightly more exuberant and lively than the last batch I saw, perhaps a little less self-consciously mannered and a bit more chaotic; new visual ideas are being incorporated and the recipe is getting more complicated and flavorful. Overall, I think it’s still very much a work in progress, but given the risks she’s taking, the odds are getting better that she will end up somewhere durably original.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The “small” images are $14000 each, the “large” images are $16000 each, and the installation piece in the back is $30000. Robertson’s work is not readily available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

While I certainly enjoyed many of the framed images in this exhibit, I suppose my favorite work was the big installation (9, 2011); it’s in the top installation shot. While the other works are relatively controlled, self-contained artistic thoughts, the installation has a looser, more improvisational feel that isn’t often associated with photography; yes, it’s messy, uneven, and sometimes hard to decipher, but the swirl of color and chemistry has a raw, physical energy that is surprisingly magnetic.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Marvelli Gallery show, 2009 (DLK COLLECTION review here)
Through March 25th
4 East 2nd Street at Bowery
New York, NY 10003

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JTF (just the facts): A total of 6 large scale black-and white photographs, framed in thick black wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in a single room gallery ... Read on.

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