Michele Abeles, Turbo @47 Canal

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the front gallery space, the middle gallery, the back gallery, and the office area. (Installation shots below.)

The following works are included in the show:

  • 13 dye sublimation on aluminum, 2024, sized roughly 40×28, 39×25, 21×30, 25×17, 24×16, 22×15, 16×23, 21×14, 18×12, 12×17 inches, in editions of 3+2AP
  • 1 dye sublimation on aluminum diptych, 2024, each panel sized roughly 24×17 inches, in an edition of 3+2AP
  • 5 archival pigment prints, 2024, sized roughly 11×7 inches, in editions of 3+2AP

Comments/Context: Over the past half dozen year or so, Michele Abeles has evolved her approach to making photographs, tightening down and bridging out of ideas that she explored more effusively earlier in her career. When Abeles first started to make a name for herself in the art world, more than a decade ago now, it was with densely layered studio compositions enlivened by overlapping textures and flattened patterns, in some cases with sculptural physical additions made to the surfaces of the prints. Those works were subtly filled with conceptual references and allusions, but felt mostly like sophisticated formal exercises that pushed on ideas of construction, mark making, and physicality.

Starting in about 2016 (in a gallery show reviewed here), Abeles began to slowly pull back from that visual stratification, with a series of closely cropped images of shopping transactions. And in her next gallery show (in 2020, reviewed here), she further embraced this crisp seeing (with hints of an almost commercial aesthetic) in works featuring Halloween horror decorations and fragments of printed shopping bags. The works still mixed precise formalism with conceptual undercurrents, but did so with a renewed sense of isolation, attention, and presence.

Several different subject matter threads come together in her newest selection of works. Colorful parrots take center stage, sitting on perches adorned with strings of shiny rings and bells (which wouldn’t have looked out of place in some of her earlier layered constructions), with the artist applying a portrait-like focus to individual named birds. In a contemporary world filled with chatbots and AI systems that repeat back to us sometimes puzzlingly connected strands of informations, Abeles’s parrots seem to represent a natural world echo of that kind of intelligence, with one diptych of a bold red bird turned and doubled, its replies twisting back on themselves.

Cars provide another subject for Abeles, with even more abstraction being pulled out of the available forms. “300 Billion Words” is the strongest single image in the show, discovering a layered composition of interlocked planes in an outdoor junk yard, complete with curving metal panels, window reflections, and a few intrepid natural interruptions. Most of the other automobile-related arrangements are even more tightly cropped, noticing smudges, holes, scrapes, and glitches among the glossy edges and curves of door frames, bumpers, and hubcaps. There’s even one fleeting self-portrait included in the mix, to be found in a cracked side mirror arranged near unspecified sweeping angles and jittering repetitions.

Digital manipulation is a more overt aesthetic presence in a third group of works. A couple of images use multiplication effects to create stuttering repetitions of car wheels and mannequin hands, almost like a visual stand in for cinematic motion. Another two works use an embossing filter to turn car fragments into textural almost latex-like surfaces, which are then digitally layered into scattering montages, each emphatically stamped by shoe imprint. The gold version of this approach is particularly shiny, the logos and edged undulations drifting towards regal obscurity.

As installed, these three threads weave together with understated confidence. Abeles is now reaching a point in her artistic trajectory where an early career summary, perhaps at a smaller museum or institution, seems like a natural next step. As the years click by, it’s intriguing to watch her redefine her subtle relationships with studio staging and manipulation, and coming back around to the power (and conceptual depth) of more straight photographic seeing.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $4000 and $12000, based on size. Abeles’s work has just begun to intermittently enter the secondary markets in the past few years, with recent prices ranging between roughly $8000 and $11000 for the few lots that have publicly changed hands.

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JTF (just the facts): Published by Aperture in 2024 (here). Softcover with dust jacket (17 x 22.5 cm), 124 pages, with 80 color and black-and-white reproductions. Includes a conversation between ... Read on.

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