JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 color photographic works, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two main rooms of the gallery and the entry area. All of the works are c-prints, made in 2013 or 2014. The show includes 11 single images and 1 triptych, with panel sizes ranging from roughly 65×40 to 81×50 (the triptych is 75×141 in total). All of the works are available in editions of 5+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Walk into any person’s home and take a quick look at what they have displayed on their bookshelves and you’ll have some immediate and often insightful information about who they are. There might be books, or family heirlooms, or exotic objects collected from distant travels, or pictures of loved ones, or eclectic personal items gathered over a lifetime. Seen together, a bookshelf of items becomes an edited (or perhaps even “curated”) reflection of our interests, passions, memories, and points of view; no wonder the “shelfie” has become a popular variant of indirect self portraiture.
That Matt Lipps has taken the idea of a bookshelf (or in this case a glass shelving unit) and turned it into a vehicle for a conceptual investigation of photography is certainly an elegant flash of inspiration; the simple physical structure of the shelves offers wide latitude for juxtaposing different objects and creating combinations that have resonance or dissonance. It’s a readymade framework for selection and comparison, and a smart structural metaphor that is both entirely familiar and seemingly fresh as applied here.
Lipps has drawn all of the display items in his series Library from the 1970s era Time-Life Library of Photography, a 17 volume classic covering both historical and technical aspects of the medium. Archival excavation has become a often used strategy in contemporary photography and these books are, in a sense, a self contained archive. Lipps has made works that mirror individual volumes or subject matter themes found in the series (Photojournalism, Travel, Children, Camera, Studio etc.), appropriating individual images out of the massive whole and recombining them into rebus-like collections displayed on the shelves. Each set of shelves has one of Lipps’ own photographs as an enlarged backdrop, allowing the artist to insert his own vision into the visual mix.
One of the conceptual twists the bookshelf motif enables is the sense that the images are physical objects rather than disembodied pictures – they “sit” on the shelves, taking up space, with depth and distance between each other and the background photograph. This image/object dichotomy remains important in contemporary photography (especially when most images are now digital), and Lipps has embraced this age old push and pull – his shelves feel like collages or cut out inspirations with a studio presence; the pictures cast shadows, even if they mysteriously float above the shelf itself.
After you get past the initial irresistible reaction to identify each fragment (it’s a Weston, a Cunningham, or a Penn, or the Hindenburg crashing, the moon walk, or a pharaoh etc.), the nuances of the embedded institutional view point start to emerge – these are the images that were thought to represent or illustrate these themes back at that time. This leads down the intellectual rabbit hole of how (art) history is constructed, and what ideas are implicit in the choices that occur – as an example, of all the photographic images of children that might have been appropriate for this series, why were these specific ones (as seen in Lipps’ Children) selected for inclusion and what do those choices tell us about how the medium (and the surrounding culture) has evolved? And what are the subtle connections and echoes to be found inside Lipps’ edited subset?
It’s this layered unpacking that makes Lipps’ photographs engaging. The best of the works are the ones where the choices are less literal and more tangential/opaque, where we have to work harder to puzzle out the connections and commonalities. That serendipity makes this history lesson exciting, and its deeper twists of references and implications more satisfying.
Collector’s POV: The single image works in this show are priced at either $11000 or $13500 (a few are sold out), while the triptych is $24000. Lipps’ work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.