Olivo Barbieri: The Dolomites Project @Yancey Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale color photographs, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, sized either 65×85 or 45×59, each available in editions of 6+3AP. All of the works were made in 2010. A monograph of this body of work was published by Damiani (here) and is available from the gallery for $40. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Olivo Barbieri’s aerial images of the Dolomites follow in the hallowed tradition of Ansel Adams’ photographs of Yosemite: pictures made to convince others of the grandeur of a place to ensure its protection for future generations. With the goal of helping to secure a World Heritage Site designation for the northern Italian region, Barbieri took to a helicopter and made crisp view camera images hovering over the towering rocky crags and crumbling rugged mountainsides.

These landscape photographs are out of the ordinary in several ways. Instead of using his usual tilt/shift approach of selective focusing and flattening, Barbieri has instead gone for selective coloration, playing with positive and negative values and tonalities to create dissonant landscape concoctions. These effects are not universally employed across all parts of an image, but in small areas and regions, often set off by the natural breaks and watersheds in the land. These manipulations mix together hyper-real and surreal, tweaked and inverted, stitching them together in unnatural, layered carpets of jagged cliffs and eroded surfaces. Tiny figures stand on outcroppings and resting points like figures from a romantic landscape painting, showing off the immense, imposing scale of the setting. And the prints themselves are monumental in size, enveloping the viewer in the expansive, all-encompassing detail of the dramatic scenes.

Given the off kilter coloration, the scale, and the looking down viewpoint, I had a few Niedermayr and Maier-Aichen moments in these photographs. In general, I very much like the idea of experimental manipulation, and of using new digital techniques to expand the boundaries of the landscape genre, but the overall impression I took away from these photographs was something more like a feeling of over reaching. What I mean is that the raw land in these images is already astonishing and breathtaking (especially from the air), but these pictures amplify this awestruck impressiveness to the point of subtle searching distraction; I found myself scanning for the visual trickery, rather than enjoying the whole experience. The land has clearly been interpreted by Barbieri in a clever new way here, but I found myself wondering whether his manipulations were diverting attention away from the authentic spectacle of the mountains themselves.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 65×85 prints are either $25000 or $40000, and the single 45×59 print is $20000. Barbieri’s photographs have very little secondary market history to date, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Small Editions (here). Spray-painted archival B-flute corrugated cover, double leporello binding, 8 x 10.75 inches, 54 pages. There are no texts or ... Read on.

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