Ralph Gibson, Political Abstraction @Mary Boone

JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 black and white and color diptychs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against grey walls in the main gallery space and the smaller side room. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2015. Each diptych is sized 32×44 and available in an edition of 7. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Lustrum Press (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Go into any photobook store in your neighborhood and glance over the titles on the featured table, and it won’t take long to find one or two that gather together everyday oddities. This kind of parade of isolated objects and formal views, often with a twist of surreal weirdness and a dose of over bright flash, has become a shorthand visual vocabulary for lots of emerging photographers. Seen with either deadpan anti-style offhandedness or subtly ironic cleverness, these images are then sequenced into bunches that generally leave us without conclusion, except that there are formal quirks and wry discoveries to be found all over this diverse planet.

Ralph Gibson’s newest show also gathers together isolated objects and formal views, but no one would ever mistake these pictures for the offhand jottings of early career photographic angst. Like virtually all of the images made across his five decade career in photography, his new images are tightly controlled exercises in form and contrast, stylized with a kind of cool precision that brings sensual glamour to even the most mundane of subjects.

In each of the diptychs on view, Gibson has paired two images, one in black and white, the other in color. This structure has the effect of drawing our attention to the dialogue between the two pictures, encouraging a compare and contrast analysis or a combined interplay rather than a single image deep dive. Given Gibson’s long standing interests in stripped down detail, the interplay of positive and negative space, the lusciousness of shadow, and the fragmentation of figures and objects, these visual discussions are often more than simple call and response matching.

Several of the duets create harmonies of angles and curves. The vertical lines of brick city buildings lean against squared off bent knees in flight, both pictures twisted off center. A more sinuous architectural V mirrors the navel undulations of a statuesque female torso, both images blending areas of shadow and highlight. And as the pairings of curves wind around the gallery walls, the theme is expanded: the neck of a beer bottle with the edge of a modern desk, a wooden hanger with another female body, the rippled edge of seafoam on the sand with the silhouette of a hotel sign.

Other combinations are built around contrasts of light and dark. The dark opening of a pastel green propane tank echoes the black form of a sleek computer monitor. A crisp black and white suit and tie ensemble has the same opposing values as a wooden crutch leaning against a tree. And a pair of flares of light (one from an acidic yellow bulb, the other from smashed glass shards on pebbled concrete) consider the textural opposites of brightness.

Still others are simple doubles of shape or pattern. Two mannequin heads flank two red curtains, both edged by l-shaped areas of shadow. Fabric patterns on a baseball hat mimic the misaligned paving bricks nearby. And diaphanous sheerness is closely investigated via the soft edge of a flowy dress and the blanketing white of a light snowfall.

While Gibson’s images have slid into a mannered erotic slickness from time to time over the years, it’s hard not to marvel at the consistency of his photographic vision across his career. While others have moved toward snapshot looseness, his photographs have retained a sense of idealized precision, where compositional rigor and balanced attention to dark and light are of paramount concern. His fascination with the glamorous tension of form is as strong as ever.

Collector’s POV: The diptychs in this show are priced at $15000 each. Gibson’s work is routinely available in the secondary markets, with recent prices ranging between $1000 and $10000.

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Read more about: Ralph Gibson, Mary Boone Gallery, Lustrum Press

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