Olivo Barbieri: Alps – Geographies and People @Yancey Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller project room. 7 of the works are archival pigment prints from the Alps and Capri series, made in 2013; these prints are each sized 65×85 and are available in editions of 6. There is also 1 chromogenic print from the Site Specific series on display, made in 2009. It is sized 44×58 and is also available in an edition of 6. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Following upon his photographic documentation of the Dolomites last year, Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri has returned to the mountains for his newest works, this time making vertiginous helicopter enabled aerials of the craggy peaks and steep rock formations of the Alps. Building on the selective color tweaking and reversal he employed in that previous project, the new images extend those visual ideas to their limit, turning textural landscape areas of sky, snow, and rockfall into featureless expanses of flat color. The new compositions interleave detailed reality with paint by numbers abstraction, creating pared down approximations that undermine the notion of photographic specificity.

Barbieri’s substitutions of sky blue for the mountainous rocks and zinc white for the areas of snow cover feel like a redaction, a conscious blank void of information that is filled in by our own assumptions and memories. The images are populated by tiny climbers who trudge along featureless ridge lines and rappel down glacial cliffs of uniform color, dwarfed by their semi-abstracted mirage-like surroundings. In the pictures with the most extreme reductions and manipulations, Barbieri nearly crosses into the simplified cartoon world of Kota Ezawa; in the more subtle works, areas of representative flatness abut the front and center reality of the steep rocks, highlighting surface contrasts and making the perilous, jagged outlines more prominent.

While I like the fact that Barbieri is experimenting within the newly expanded boundaries of the digital landscape genre and playing with our expectations for photographic clarity, often the edits and removals feel overly easy. If he’s interested in including us in the hallucinatory visions of expert climbers at their breaking point, he needs to twist our perception of the dangerously beautiful surroundings even further.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The 65×85 prints are $25000 each (regardless of series) and the smaller 44×58 print is $20000. While Barbieri’s work has little secondary market history, a few lots have come up for auction on European sales in the past year, finding buyers at prices between $7000 and $9000.

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