Ray K. Metzker: Intimations @Laurence Miller

JTF (just the facts): A total of 45 black and white works, variously framed in black and white and matted, and hung in the entry space and main gallery area. 22 of the images are sized 8×10 and were taken between 1956 and 1981; these prints are a mix of primarily vintage and a few later prints, in varying edition sizes (unique, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 25). Another 8 of the images are printed slightly larger at 11×14, spanning the years 1964-1983; these are printed in editions of 3, 5, 20, 25, or 30. There are 6 composite works in the show, each with a date when the images were taken and another when they were assembled; the works on display come from 1964/1964, 1965/2002, 1964/2006 (2), 1963/2006, and 1965/2006. Most are unique, although one was made in an edition of 3; outside dimensions for these works range from 15×18 to 31×22. Finally, there are a group of 9 images each 16×20 from 1981-2004; they are printed in editions of 6, 10 or 25. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Congratulations for staying power and long term commitment are probably in order for Ray Metzker and Laurence Miller, who are partnering for an astounding 20th solo show at the gallery. This particular exhibit includes a dense sampler of images from Metzker’s recent European retrospective Light Lines, which originated at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, in 2007, and traveled to a few additional locations.
I’ve previously written plenty of times (see the links below) about Metzker’s mastery of light and dark, the power of his blacks, his expert use of contrast, and the craftsmanship of his prints, so I won’t rehash many of those same arguments and celebrations again here. What we have in this show is really “a little of this, a little of that”: a few early urban images from Chicago, a couple of pictures from 1960s Europe, a few more from 1960s Philadelphia, a handful of composites and double frames, a few beach scenes, some 1970s New Mexico images, a Pictus Interruptus or two, some 1980s city scenes, and a handful of more recent landscapes and Philadelphia shots. As such, the exhibit steps back away from any particular project, and gives a more 50,000 foot view of the evolution of Metzker’s photographic approach, highlighting both recurring themes (city sidewalks, solitary figures, shadows, multiple images) and new directions in appetizer-sized bites.
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Apart from a few newly composed composites of repeated figures against deep black backgrounds, I’m not sure there is much here that will be haltingly new for experienced Metzker supporters; there are just wasn’t enough space in this small gallery to give each of these separate bodies of work room to breathe. But this in no way diminishes the consistent quality of the work on view or the richness and variety of Metzker’s meticulous graphic control. There is roughly 50 years of innovative monochrome experimentation on these walls, a succinct summary of the development of a striking and underappreciated photographic vocabulary.
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Collector’s POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows. The 8x10s range in price from $6000 all the way to $55000, with many intermediate prices along the way. The 11x14s fall between $7500 and $35000, and the 16x20s range from $5000 to $12000. The composites are available between $35000 and $50000.
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Metzker’s work was much more available in the secondary markets in 2010 than in most recent years. Prices ranged between $1000 and $10000. The most recent composite to be found at auction sold for $22500 in 2009.

My favorite image in this show was the multiple exposure building abstraction, Chicago Loop, 1957; it’s the image on the far right in the second installation shot. While we would certainly enjoy having a composite in our collection, the slashing lines of this early city scene would fit well with other images we already own.

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Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Review: New Yorker (here)
  • Exhibit: The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker @Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 2011 (here)
  • Past Gallery Shows: AutoMagic (review here), Wanderings (review here)
  • Book: Light Lines (review here)
Through February 26th

20 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

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