Photography Highlights from the 2017 ADAA Art Show

If we happen to cross paths sometime in the next few days, and we stand together and take quick stock of our recent art travels during this busy fair week in New York, here is my hopelessly choppy but succinct answer to the ever popular conversation starter this week “how was the fair?”, as it pertains to this year’s ADAA Art Show:

Not as much photography as previous years. A handful of key photo stalwarts: Hans Kraus, Pace/MacGill, Yossi Milo, and Fraenkel (showing paintings of vernacular photographs?!). Sprinkles of standard contemporary fare elsewhere – Sherman centerfold, Becher typology, Baldessari multi-image combine, etc. A few surprises and discoveries. Same hushed atmosphere.

And while these thumbnail photography-centric notes may seem a trifle flip, they do capture the essential character of this year’s ADAA, at least for a photography collector. Given the thin spread of photography on offer, drawing any meaningful conclusions about contemporary trends, themes, or percolating new ideas to be found here seems like a stretch.

If after engaging in this virtual cocktail party banter, you’d like to vicariously tag along to see more, the slideshow below contains selected photographic highlights and standouts from the various booths, starting to the far left from the entrance. Each work includes some description and analysis, along with linked gallery names, photographer names, and prices where appropriate, to facilitate easy follow up.

Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs (here): William Henry Fox Talbot, POR. This booth was a tightly edited survey of photograms, running from the early 19th century through to Adam Fuss and Hiroshi Sugimoto, with stops for Anna Atkins, Bertha Jacques, and others along the way. This Fox Talbot image of a sprig of maidenhair fern from 1839 (very near the invention of the medium) has the elemental grace and simplicity that makes certain botanicals surprisingly compelling.

303 Gallery (here): Rodney Graham, $650000. This three-panel light box filled this booth fully, its massive size overwhelming the small space and forcing the viewer to enter its contrived world at almost one-to-one human scale. In a certain way, this overstuffed display choice was perfect for the subject matter – the artist playing the role of antiquarian, asleep in his cardigan, surrounded by his eccentricities. The bigness of the work helps it to become a place to get lost in, full of mushrooms, glass cases, tattered rugs, and overstuffed bookshelves. Like many of Graham’s staged scenes, it is both gently mocking and true to its details, keeping us off balance.

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (here): Rirkrit Tiravanija, $45000. This bracingly smart video takes Owen Kydd’s durational photograph idea and extends it to wholly unexpected lengths. The camera watches as a woman meditates (apparently for an hour and a half), her eyes closed and the only movement coming from her breathing and the nearly imperceptible swaying of her body. Every pore of her shiny skin and strand of her dark hair is visible in crisp detail. As we watch, we too are forced into a similar meditative state, where the minute changes in the portrait grab our attention. The work is both engrossing and quietly calming.

Hosfelt Gallery (here): Liliana Porter, $14000. Like many of Porter’s works, this image (and its ceramic accompaniment) plays with the physicality of photography, creating illusions that force us to double check our perception. Here the image of the broken salt shaker physically conflicts with the reality of the unharmed version that lies before us, creating the dissonance of time turning backward or the breakage being miraculously fixed. We then realize of course that there were two (salt and pepper), and the perplexing situation resolves itself. At some level, it’s a simple trick, but that moment of deliberate confusion is what gives the piece its vitality.

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects (here): Michelle Stuart, $45000. The shifting erasures of memory are a favorite topic of photographers, but few have captured these nuances with as much loveliness as this work by Stuart. Civil War era glass plates form the starting point for reworked images that descend into gestural blur and dislocation. Using both physical and digital techniques, the battlefield images are softened into dusty expanses and watery horizons, the surfaces themselves becoming the content. The work feels deeply historical, and yet unmoored, floating in a zone without definition.

Yossi Milo Gallery (here): Clare Strand, $9000. This booth was a pairing of recent abstractions by Marco Breuer and black and white images by Clare Strand, and at first glance, that combination might seem unlikely or even odd. Breuer’s images are interested in the control of positive and negative space and the curves and contours that occur in between, and once that idea percolates around in your brain a minute, then Strand’s contributions start to make more sense. This image of a tethered child turns on the same compositional thought, the flash lit jacket (and disembodied arm) set against the blackness of the night with a similar affinity for control. Strand’s images also echo the invasive attention of old school Weegee-style image making, tying a staged, contemporary impulse back to the history of the medium.

Richard Gray Gallery (here): Evelyn Statsinger, $10000. This artist was a new discovery for me. Working in Chicago in the late 1940s and early 1950s, her photograms take a decidedly different path than Callahan and Siskind (she was an SAIC grad), combining layered textures and a Surrealist bent with her own whimsical drawings. The cutouts of text and other patterns add rich photographic ideas to this Calder-like composition.

Fergus McCaffrey (here): Birgit Jürgenssen, €32000. The shimmery surface of this work comes from a scrim of transparent fabric (maybe nylon?) stretched over the black and white photographs underneath. Its rebus-like construction – combining a face with an intruding foot, a gun on the cobblestones, and a spiraling staircase – offers plenty of noir narrative options, and the moire effect from the fabric delicately enhances that mood of uncertainty.

PPOW Gallery (here): Betty Tompkins, $25000. Tompkins is riding a well-deserved rediscovery wave of late, and this booth digs back into her archives to show us more of her process. Tucked behind a side wall were a selection of her early maquettes, where she took explicit scenes appropriated from porn magazines and gridded them off into tiny squares that were then used for enlargement into her wall-filling paintings. These small works balance close-up intimacy and unexpected boldness, mixing meticulous process-centric dispassion with a blast of thoughtful frisson.

Pace/MacGill Gallery (here): Lee Friedlander, $9500. This booth was a thematic group show centered on the idea of lines in photography, with a huge Richard Learoyd still life held together by taut strings dominating the proceedings. Off to the side, this elegant nude against a quilted bedspread was less compositionally confrontational than most Friedlander nudes, reducing its curves into an unexpectedly muted but sensitive formal study. The Y of legs seems to echo a similar Weston nude of Charis on the sand, bringing its central shape into tighter focus.

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Read more about: Betty Tompkins, Birgit Jürgenssen, Clare Strand, Evelyn Statsinger, Lee Friedlander, Liliana Porter, Michelle Stuart, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Rodney Graham, William Henry Fox Talbot, 303 Gallery, Fergus McCaffrey, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs, Hosfelt Gallery, Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, Pace/MacGill Gallery, PPOW Gallery, Richard Gray Gallery, Yossi Milo Gallery, ADAA Art Show

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