JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 black and white and color photographs, alternately framed in black and matted or framed in brown wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller side room. 14 of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 2019 or 2020. Physical sizes are either 11×14 or 14×18 inches (or the reverse), and the prints are available in editions of 5. The other 5 works are archival pigment prints, made in 2019. Physical sizes of these prints range from roughly 41×38 to 51×95 inches, and these prints are also available in editions of 5. (Installation shots below.)
A concurrent show of Lipps’s work is on view at Marc Selwyn Fine Art in Los Angeles (here).
Comments/Context: In the past two decades, Matt Lipps has built a photographic practice that is equal parts physical construction and cultural commentary. Leveraging printed materials from the 20th century, including photographic histories, how-to manuals, and magazines of various kinds, Lipps repurposes the printed imagery in innovative ways, exposing some of its less obvious resonances, connections, and potential juxtapositions. Building on the collage work of artists like Martha Rosler and Barbara Kruger, his work is culturally aware, conceptually sophisticated, and structurally unexpected.
In his previous gallery show (from 2015, reviewed here), Lipps used the Time-Life Library of Photography as his source material, cutting out imagery and then arranging those selections on physical shelves, like a carefully ordered three-dimensional bookshelf display (which he then rephotographed). He remixed his choices into thoughtful subject matter and thematic groupings, uncovering some of the embedded patterns and biases in the now-dated photographic reference books.
In this new show, Lipps turns the crank on that central idea a few more notches. Starting with fashion images drawn from 1990s era Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, he has turned the power poses of the female models – both clothed and nude, and alternately with flying hair, athletic energy, sultry seduction, and jumping kicks – into blank, cut out silhouettes. Either on their own or in pairs or groups, the poses exude a particular kind of feminine vitality, filled with supermodel style and bravado.
Lipps has then “filled” these feminine forms with subject matter drawn from particular sources, intentionally creating frictions between the outline and the interior. In one group of black and white works, he has used pages from US Camera Annual as his raw material, placing archival photographs of football players, soldiers, circus performers, and crowds of protestors “inside” the cutouts. These combinations create visual dissonance between female and male, and between the commercial slickness of fashion and the seriousness of some of the documentary footage. Lipps gets a bit more open-ended with filler images of fire, flocks of birds in the sky, and the swirling mystery of the cosmos, the mix with the female figures hinting at more mystical powers hidden within. The constructed figures stand in physical space and cast shadows, making the illusion of posing all the more real.
In a second group of works, Lipps fills the female outlines with imagery from The Family of Man, specifically the 1955 exhibition catalog from the now famous MoMA exhibition curated by Edward Steichen. In these setups, the white borders that separated the photographs in the book now divide the outlined forms, with images of a boy flying an airplane, a woman carrying a painted vessel on her head, and soldiers sitting with their girlfriends on a boardwalk now tumbling through the active silhouettes. Again, the depictions of gender get upended by the sexualized housing, making the female roles inside look all the more outdated.
In a few larger works, Lipps introduces color, not inside the silhouettes themselves, but as backdrops. These works use wide groups of models standing together, which are then filled with one similarly wide image, ranging from seascapes and dry deserts to chaotic scenes from war. Since the setups aren’t freestanding, Lipps uses colored carboard as backing, creating panel-like blocks that divide the compositions; when these works are then rephotographed and enlarged, the halftone dots emerge, adding texture. Lipps also allows his use of transparent tape to intentionally become part of visible action, the light from the studio lamps refracting off the tape and creating bright glares and flashes that slash across the surface. In particular, the works with war imagery inside burst with layered, wrestling conflict, the silhouettes, the soldiers, and the physical construction all competing for visual dominance in a satisfying way.
The mechanism of outline and interior filling is one that has broad potential, and as Lipps experiments with and extends it further, he has the opportunity to push toward more provocative combinations. The works on view here ably set up the framework, but there is more room for formal risk taking, spatial complexity, and oppositional bite. These works have the ability to sting quite a bit more sharply without sacrificing elegance, nesting layers of meaning inside resonant framing.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The black and white prints are priced at $6000 or $6500 each, based on size. The larger color prints range from $11000 to $18000 each. Lipps’ work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.