Nicolai Howalt: Car Crash Studies @Silverstein

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color images, mounted to aluminum and unframed, hung in the front/entry gallery space. All of the images are digital c-prints, made in 2009, and printed in editions of 5. 21 of the images are car interiors and are sized between 15×19 and 19×24; they have generally been hung edge to edge or in a typology-style grid. The other 4 images are car hoods and have been printed much larger, the largest reaching approximately 70×86. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Danish photographer Nicolai Howalt’s images of the remnants of car crashes alternate between the brutality of evidence and the lyricism of abstraction. In a neatly self-contained project, Howalt has found something new in the world of car culture, stepping back to find a mix of beauty and tragedy in the aftermath of destruction.

The best of the works in this show are the crushed and crumpled car hoods (reminiscent of the sculpture of John Chamberlain) that have been transformed into abstract swirls of color; they are scratched and scarred, slashed and bent, peeling and flaking, creating expressionistic movement and lively all-over compositions. Some of the works are extreme close-ups, where the color gets grainy and pixellated, creating a fuzzy texture of digital Pointillism. The works hold the wall extremely well, and work in different ways from a variety of distances.

The rest of the pictures on view provide a more sober counterpoint to the exuberance of the car hoods. Using a theme and variation approach, Howalt examines the damaged interiors of vehicles, with an intimacy that borders on the gruesomely voyeuristic; strands of hair dangle from a shattered windshield, while bloody hand prints cover a steering wheel. The interiors are flash lit, with pure white or black backgrounds, highlighting the curves of a spiderwebbed window or a dented dashboard. A set of air bags, ranging from inflated to deflated, are shown as a typology, a not so subtle reminder of all that happened before the pictures were taken, but abstracted into a series of white circles.

Overall, this is a well constructed photographic project, with a few standout images to make you step back and nod your head in appreciation.

Collector’s POV: The smaller prints in this show are priced between $2400 and $2600. The four large car hoods are each priced differently, ranging from $6000 to $18500, based on size. Howalt’s work is not yet available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is really the only option for interested collectors at this point. While these works don’t fit with our specific collecting themes, if we owned an airy modern condo with large white walls, the crumpled car hoods would be tempting, especially the smallest of the four, a silky light blue abstraction.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here)
  • Thomas Kellner curatorial projects (here)

Nicolai Howalt: Car Crash Studies
Through October 24th

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
535 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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