JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the East and West gallery spaces. All of the works are digital c-prints, made between 2007 and 2013. The prints range in size from roughly 25×33 to 40×50 (or reverse) and are available in editions of either 9+2AP or 5+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Pieter Hugo’s new show is altogether more introspective and personal than anything we’ve seen from the artist in recent years. Gone are the dramatic men with hyenas, the gory Nollywood actors, and the computer wasteland scavengers, replaced by straightforward, almost harsh images of many of the people in Hugo’s own life, from his pregnant wife to the maids and servants who have worked for his extended family over decades. Taken together, it’s a portrait of an artist still deeply troubled by the scarred pyschological landscape of his South African homeland, with the weight of a new family putting pressure on his search for answers.
Hugo’s large scale portraits linger in the middle, trying to make sense of the uncertainty and confusion he is experiencing. Faces peer out with deadpan stares, every wrinkle of their weathered skin seen in up close detail. Along with the images of his immediate family and the long standing participants in his life, Hugo has mixed in portraits of other people struggling with the complex realities of a modern South Africa or otherwise marginalized in one way or another: a gay married couple in mixed tribal garb, a traffic intersection beggar, Xhosa boys in plaid jackets just after their circumcision ceremony, an unemployed man carrying oranges, a nude couple on the beach, a Zimbabwean immigrant, a former convict with a tattooed face. Every sitter, regardless of his or her race, tells a story of challenge, of trying to make a better life in an environment that seems hostile to their success. Still lifes and domestic interiors add further detail to the multi-layered mood: a slab from the Voortrekker monument is juxtaposed with an aerial shot of the geometric squares of the Diepsloot shanty town, offset by quietly sad rooms with fake flowers, a cracked couch, and a teddy bear; the effect is a potent mix of history and memory, full of stubborn hope and entrenched anguish.
This project is filled with emotional charge, and as result, opens up plenty of thorny questions still raw from the days of colonialism and Apartheid. Depending on your vantage point, this show might look like a parade of victimization or a celebration of endurance. Hugo’s choices feel both vulnerable and controlled, and his end product certainly delivers his conflicted message. With a new baby in his arms and a knowing look of responsibility in his eyes, his internal battle of optimism and pessimism is laid bare.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced based on size, ranging from $12000 to $24000. Hugo’s work has become more available in the secondary markets in the past year or two, with prices recent ranging from $4000 to $44000, the large prints from the Hyena Men series at the top of that range.