Melanie Schiff: Mirror & Mastodon @Horton & Liu

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 color images, framed in silver and matted, and hung in an intimate single room gallery space. All of the prints are c-prints, sized approximately 31×34 or reverse, made in 2009, and printed in editions of 5. This is Schiff’s first solo show in New York. (Installation shot below.)

Comments/Context: In the past few years, in lock step with the withering of the economy, contemporary photography has been filled with pictures of failure, emptiness and ruins, and Melanie Schiff’s newest body of work falls into this broad category. Her images depict endless concrete drainage corridors and spillways covered in dense graffiti, dark tunnels, cracked cement walls, and rusted metal parts abandoned amidst overgrown greenery. Almost all of the pictures are built around simple found geometries: a square, a circle, or parallel lines converging to a vanishing point in the distance.

On one hand, these images are unsettling in their destitution, vacant of recent human interaction (the image of a gnarled tree trunk erupting from the ground is particularly disquieting); I was reminded of the surreal atmosphere of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But the bright lights in the distance (the “light at the end of the tunnel”) seem to give many of these images a small dose of optimism – there is a way out of this depressing world and it is almost within reach. Overall, this is a respectable first show, punctuated by several memorable images.

Collector’s POV: All of the prints in the show are priced at $4800. Schiff has very little auction track record, with only a few lots being sold in the past year or so, most for approximately $1000. While none of the works in this show is a direct fit for our specific collection, my particular favorite was Hell Room, 2009, the canal washed in muted red.

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Read more about: Melanie Schiff, Horton Gallery


  1. BC /

    This show seems to be a good example of the formula currently used by many galleries:

    Relatively unknown early career artist
    Large prints
    Very small editions
    High prices
    Gallery profit?

    As a collector I have a hard time buying prints like these because:
    1) I have no space for them.
    2) For the same money I could get a print from a much better established artist and could insure that I was getting something that had staying power both in terms of the artist and the image itself. Who knows if this artist will still be in photography in another 5 years? if she is will these images will be part of an important body of work, or if the artist will have moved on to capitalize on the next fad?
    3) One of the strengths of photography is that it is easy to make multiple copies of an image. These very small editions virtually insure an image will never become popular or well known. What if Ansel Adams had only printed 5 copies of Moonrise?

    So many galleries are showing who like this that surely there must be collectors who are buying this stuff. I would be interested in their perspective.

  2. Anonymous /

    BC, you're really out of your element, and really have no idea what you're talking about.

  3. dlkcollection /


    Personal critiques dissuade people from posting their thoughts with candor. I'd appreciate it if you kept them to yourself, regardless of their merit. This is forum for open discussion.

    I'd also like to step in and say that I think BC's thoughts about the trade off collectors make between second tier vintage work and fresh contemporary work are quite widely held , at least among “vintage” collectors. If we're talking about spending 5K and the choice is between an emerging photographer and a secondary vintage piece/later print from any one of dozens of acknowledged masters, different collectors will clearly make different choices, but many will chose the safety of the established name. While one collector would gladly take a forward looking bet on Schiff versus a later print Brandt or Friedlander (almost a stocks versus bonds analogy), there are plenty of others who would make a different choice (no disrespect intended to either decision, both are the “right” choice for specific kinds of collectors).

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