Ray K. Metzker, AutoMagic @Laurence Miller

JTF (just the facts): A total of 52 black and white works, alternately framed in black and white and matted, and hung in the entry space and main gallery area. 32 of the images are 8x10s and were taken between 1958 and 1965; these prints are a mix of primarily vintage and a few later prints, in varying edition sizes (5, 20, 25). A small group of images (5) are printed slightly larger at 11×14, spanning a wider number of years (1960-1989); these are also printed in editions of 5 and 20. There are 3 composite works in the show: one from 1965, another from 1964/1984, and a third from 1965/2002; they are 32×24, 30×22, and 18×24 respectively. Finally, there are a group of 12 recent images printed 16×20 from 2004-2009; they are printed in editions of 10. A new limited edition book of this body of work (also entitled AutoMagic) has been published by Only Photography (here) and is available from the gallery for $200. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Ray Metzker is clearly one the masters of photographic contrast. His careful control of the interplay of dark and light, and his understanding of the power of deep shadow and blackness to create drama in an image have made his work distinctive and original for more than 50 years. This terrific show brings together Metzker’s images of automobiles from across his long career. With this subject, Metzker uses the curves and lines of the cars to create exciting compositions and finds unexpected abstractions in the reflective surfaces of paint, glass and chrome.
The show is loosely divided into groups of common details: car fragments, snow covered cars, parking lots, cars on the street, people in cars, cars from the side, multiples of cars, architecture reflected in cars, etc. The early works from Chicago and Philadelphia are extremely dark (the night views are often noirish), punctuated by a few small lines of white, a simple silhouette, or small patches of glare from a street light. The thick blacks are velvety and enveloping, with only the highlights coming forth to define the pictures.
The more recent images (nicknamed Autowackies) stay in the middle grey tones a bit more, but explode with complex reflections and refractions; adjacent buildings become intersecting wallpapers of grids and windows, densely applied to windshields, hoods, and expanses of curved metal. The pared down simplicity of his earlier work has given way to more exuberant clashes and cacophony.

Metzker’s composites continue to be my favorite of his various projects. In two of the works on display in this show, the repetition of hundreds of tiny images (arrayed in strips) creates a fascinating all over patterning of black and white; only up close can the actual content of the variant images be grasped. The third composite uses multiple exposures to create layers of upside down geometries, ghostlike in their see-through overlaps.
Overall, the quality of the work in this show is consistently high. The installation effectively sets up sub themes and allows the work to show wide ranges of variation and experimentation within these constructs. They’re all cars, but as fodder for Metzker, this routine subject seems limitless.

Collector’s POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows. Most of the vintage 8x10s are priced at $6000, although there are a few in this size that range higher: $9500, $10000, $15000, $18000, and even $45000; the later prints are $4000. The 11x14s are priced between $4000 and $10000. The three composites are $75000, $48000, and $50000. The recent 16x20s are $5000 each.
Metzker’s work is not consistently available in the secondary markets, and as such, the price history is spotty. While a range for the past few years does exist (approximately $1000 to $8000), I don’t think it is particularly representative of the real market for his under appreciated work. This past fall, a Metzker composite was sold at Christie’s for $22500; this was the first quality Metzker I had seen at auction in quite a long time. We continue to consider Metzker a photographer that belongs in our collection, and there are plenty of works in this exhibit that could be made to fit into our collecting genres, given their level of abstraction.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Light Lines: DLK COLLECTION review (here), 5B4 review (here)

Ray K. Metzker, AutoMagic
Through January 9th

Laurence Miller Gallery
20 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

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JTF (just the facts): A retrospective exhibition, hung against white and black walls, in a series of three connected spaces (and their exterior walls) on the museum’s main floor. The ... Read on.

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