Melanie Schiff, Run, Falls @Kate Werble

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 black and white and color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are inkjet prints, made in 2013 or 2014. Physical sizes range from 10×8 to 40×48 (or reverse), and each of the images is available in an edition of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Melanie Schiff’s newest photographs have the feeling of an artist testing the boundaries of her existing visual vocabulary, searching and pushing in alternate directions in the hopes of finding new paths forward. In this small show, she jumps from constructed set-ups to found textures, from color to black and white, and from conceptual to an echo of classic straight. But somehow that all-over-the-place randomness seems to coalesce into a common set of underlying ideas that connect back on themselves like interwoven aesthetic threads.

Some of the best works in this exhibit are explorations of light. Threadbare carpets are held up against the blasting sun, with dapples and flares of light flowing through the tiny cracks and holes. Diffused hazy yellow offers easy going afternoon warmth, while cooler blue turns the composition into a nighttime sky with pinpricks of stars. Experiments with multiple exposures take these light investigations in a tangential direction, turning the tumbling mist of a waterfall into a layered cascade of sun streaked repetitions.

Schiff extends in a more conceptual direction with a pair of images of scraggly native plants isolated against hanging cloth backgrounds. Forgettable roadside scrub is given our full attention, but then twisted into wider investigations of texture and tonality, contrasting dark strands of weedy vegetation with quilted whiteness and rumpled draped grey. They are like rigid specimen photographs allowed to go feral, marrying a Blossfeldt-like control with the looseness of Collier Schorr’s strung together floral constructions. This kind of subtle conceptual mixing continues in images of a shiny CD hung in a citrus tree and a graceful dancer in white with a full arm of unexpectedly dark tattoos.

Echoes of Siskind and Cunningham come through in a handful of throwback black and white images, where the textures of a corrugated tin barn and a woven blanket become subjects in and of themselves, and shadow patterns on skin dance with winding wicker. It’s as if Schiff is trying to draw historical lessons from pictures like these, so she can perfect the techniques and add them to her growing artistic toolbox.

In many ways, this show feels transitional, with Schiff recombining various photographic ideas on the fly and allowing the disparate thoughts to intermingle. It’s a subtle rejection of a stratified project-based approach to art making, and an embrace of a more fluid and open ended investigative journey.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $4000 and $8000 each. Schiff’s work has started to trickle into the secondary markets in recent years, but there haven’t been enough public transactions to chart much of a price history. As such, gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Melanie Schiff, Kate Werble Gallery

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Bandini Books (here). Open spine softcover, 29×36 cm, 64 pages, with 22 color reproductions. Includes an essay by Erik Mootz (in English/Portuguese). ... Read on.

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