JTF (just the facts): A total of 61 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung in the front and back galleries, the side viewing room, and the connecting hallway. (Installation shots at right.)
The works in the show come from four separate projects. The projects are listed below, followed by the number of works on view and the image details:
- Honeybees: 6 gum bichromate with honeybees prints on paper, framed in white with no mat, sized either 59×100 or 59×40, unique, from 2012
- Trees: 50 charcoal silkscreen prints with wood from George Bush Park, Texas, on handmade paper, framed in blond wood with no mat, each sized 19×13, in editions of 3, from 2009-2011
- Lakes and Reservoirs: 4 chromogenic prints soaked in lake water, framed in white with no mat, each sized 72×105, unique, from 2008-2011
- Taste Tests in Color: 1 silkscreen with blue, red, yellow, and purple Gummy Bears on paper, framed in white with no mat, sized 40×30, unique, from 2012
Comments/Context: At a time when many in photography have looked back to antique processes in search of hand made, artisanal authenticity, Matthew Brandt has used process experimentation to look forward, mixing newfangled alchemical innovations with conceptual thinking in unexpected ways. He is at once a throw back to the photographers of the 19th century who were constantly tinkering with their chemistries and a contemporary artist who is comfortable with a new breed of photography that is more tactile and physical. The works in this show break down the barrier between the image and the process by both capturing a subject in the traditional manner and embedding the physical matter of that subject in the development process, making it a picture and a version of the thing itself at the same time. Depending on the series, this approach alternately feels truly inspired and transformative or too literal and overly conspicuous.
Brandt’s landscapes of lakes are the most successful and visually gripping of the works in this show. Starting with fairly standard color views of lakeside scenes, he dips the prints in water scooped from the lake itself, allowing the layers of color in the chromogenic print to dissolve and swirl around. The photographs begin to wash away, leaving behind fragments of the original view covered in expressionistic splashes of watery brightness. The colors run, and spot, and look like manic sponge prints, whirling and eddying in churning pools and gullies. Given the chance effects at work here, some images are naturally more striking than others, but they all use fluid forms to explore a delicate balance between sharp reality and indistinct abstraction.
Brandt’s images of swarms of bees made with real crushed up bee bodies mixed into the gum bichromate emulsion create gee whiz, open eyed astonishment when you really get up close. The bulbous forms of the insect body parts sit on top of the paper like they were meticulously glued in place one by one, giving the print a kind of bumpy topography. The problem is that from afar, it’s hard to see much more than tiny black dots against a huge sheet of white. Brandt’s images of trees also suffer from some compositional weakness; the paper made from wood and the ink made from charcoal provide the unusual physical connection to the trees, but I found the repeated deadpan images in shades of dirty brown to fade into a dull typological blur after the first dozen or so. The one work made out of Gummy Bears just felt too much like a gimmick to take very seriously.
All in, while this show is a bit uneven, there is plenty of evidence that Brandt has a surplus of original ideas. If he can match his novel process innovations with increasingly sophisticated and refined image making as he goes forward, he certainly has the potential to show us something durably new.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced based as follows, based on the project/series.
- Honeybees: $16000 or $22000 based on size
- Trees: $5000 each
- Lakes and Reservoirs: all sold
- Taste Tests in Color: $5800
Brandt’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best option for interested collectors at this point.