Ori Gersht: Cells @CRG

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 large scale color photographs and 1 video installation, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the front, middle, and side galleries, with a curtained off viewing room in the back for the video. All of the photographs are c-prints mounted on dibond, made in 2013. Sizes range from 48×47 to 60×68 (or reverse) and all of the prints are available in editions of 8+2AP. The video is a three screen HD video projection with media players, made in 2012, also available in an edition of 8+2AP. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Following up on his recent series of energetic exploding flowers, this show of new work finds Ori Gersht moving in several different directions simultaneously. It mixes almost scientific abstraction with more traditional images of the geometric space of bull pens, paired with a three channel video installation that traces the methodical preparations and movements of a Spanish bullfighter. Thematically, they all fit together into one interconnected impression, but individually, they are quite visually and emotionally distinct.

The best works in the show are the red circular abstractions made by adding drops of red blood to pools of white milk. Up close, the splashes of red are fascinatingly veined and organic, slowly turning from almost black in the center to filigrees of disappearing pink at the edges; they wave and stretch and dissolve with thick pulsating richness. When placed in the context of Jewish traditions and the prohibition against mixing these two, the works take on an overtly transgressive, almost creepy, tone. They’re stop motion Harold Edgerton meets taboo testing Andres Serrano, with compositional help from Ken Noland.

The second series of photographs on view documents the interior spaces of the empty holding pens at the bull ring. The rough wood doors are scarred and scraped and the white cells are muddied by hoof prints and dirty brushing flanks. The photographs are rigidly geometric, turning doorways into flat rectangles (almost like Sean Scully paintings) and cells into corner bisected triangles. They balance absent violence with aesthetic simplicity, the spaces steeped in their function even when quiet and empty. The video amplifies this meditative quality, following the matador as he slowly and deliberately dons his grandly embroidered costume, elegantly meets the bull in the dusty cloud of the ring, and then returns to undress with the same reverence and grace. Flanked by slow moving fragments of royal portrait paintings on the side screens, the video emphasizes the thoughtfulness of the ritual, and its measured, respectful application.

When seen in the company of these reverential views of bullfighting, the milk and blood abstractions seem even more profane and unexpected; they bring us back to the gore that is left out of Gersht’s gestural dance in the ring. In many ways, the cell pictures and matador video are a well matched supporting cast to drive home the surprising vulgarity of the abstract blood drops. Without their context, we might just see bright red swirling vortex circles, and miss the underlying ceremony of blood letting.

Collector’s POV: The prints in the show are priced at either $20000 (Love Me Love Me Not blood series) or $22000 (Cells series). Gersht’s work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets in recent years. Prices for the few lots that have sold at auction have ranged between $3000 and $20000.

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Read more about: Ori Gersht, CRG Gallery

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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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