Michele Abeles, English for Secretaries @47 Canal

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 black and white and color works (including 1 triptych), framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2013. Sizes for individual prints/panels range from 32×24 to 47×34 (or reverse), and all of the works are available in editions of 5. While the majority of the photographs on view are displayed in a standard manner, one work includes an oil paint drawing on the protective outer glass and another is covered in dark brown plexiglas. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The works in Michele Abeles’ new show pick up right where she left off with her contributions to the New Photography 2012 exhibit at the MoMA (review here). So much so that there are direct visual connections between the recent pieces and those from a year ago – reused image fragments and common motifs (a rose, a palm leaf, a rock, some Japanese text, a Spanish language newspaper, colored tints), sent back through the artistic blender and reborn in new iterations and incarnations.  It’s as if the conversation never actually stopped – it just continued to shift and morph over time, reprising some old themes/ideas and adding in plenty of new ones.

Abeles has said that her works consider how we view imagery on computer screens, and it’s clear that her crowded, overlapped compositions imply a sense of interrupt-driven, tangent-following distraction. Her juxtapositions swirl and recur, flattened into one continuous plane of imagery that can be peeled back layer by layer. New elements in these works include a while subway tile-like graphic overlay, stenciled letters, transparent bubbles, strands of looping silver chain, gradient color blocks, and the ultimate cliché of the Internet, the kitty picture. These images and effects stutter and repeat in mash-ups that seem like snapshots in fluid, screen-mediated, image-saturated time.

Abeles has also introduced two new effects in this recent body of work. One of her compositions is covered in almost opaque dark brown plexigas, making it hard to decipher the images underneath. At first, I found this annoying illegible, but after a moment or two, I found the frustration to be quite thoughtful, as though someone had turned the volume down on my image feed and I was being forced to strain (i.e pay closer attention) to hear it. Another work brings the hand of the artist back to the center of focus, overlaying a hand painted female figure on top of a chaotic juxtaposed concoction. This introduces a jarring contrast of tactile, gestural imperfection to the slick, computer-filtered environment, opening up an avenue for bringing personal, physical intervention back into her mix.

In a few cases, I found the ideas Abeles is wrestling with more compelling than their end results, but it’s clear that she’s exploring some new territory here, trying to come to terms with the compressing weight of imagery around us and how is it affecting the ways in which we process those inputs. Her work feels something like an opportunistic Internet organism, ever adapting, mutating and recombining.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The individual prints were priced at $4500 or $5300, while the triptych was $15000. I use the past tense in this case, as I was told that there was nothing available at this point. Abeles’ photographs have not yet reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Triangle Books (here). Softcover, 200 x 200 mm, 40 pages, with 30 color photographs. Includes an essay by Hervé Bize in English ... Read on.

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