Sara VanDerBeek @Metro Pictures

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 color photographs and 8 sculptures, hung against white walls in the three adjoining gallery spaces on the first floor. All of the photographs are digital c-prints made in 2013, framed in white and unmatted, in some cases covered by tinted Plexiglas (pink/blue) or mirrored Mirona glass. Sizes range from 20×16 to 96×48, and all the prints are available in editions of 3 (two of the works are diptychs). The modular sculptures are made from concrete and latex paint, and were also made in 2013. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Sara VanDerBeek’s new show is an exercise in atmosphere, where contrasts of shape, texture, color and scale are mixed with muted subtlety. Classical curves are matched by rough Minimalism, creating a back and forth dialogue between forms. The result is a loosely wandering rhythm, the whole of the installation trumping the power of any one contributing work.

The first room of the exhibit is balanced by four oversized images of Classical female sculpture, cropped down to sinuous bending torsos. Elegant bodies in soft white and enveloping black are paired with colorized partners in hybrid pink and blue, creating a calm sense of elemental grace. Flanked by tall corner-shaped concrete columns in stark white, the visual conversation moves between simple refinement and pared down, blunt geometry. The last room in the show follows this same pattern, capturing rounded female heads in bronze and marble in similar dusky pink and blue tonalities, once again offset by the rigid, rectilinear lines of the nearby sculpture.

The works in the main gallery space take these contrasts in a more abstract and ephemeral direction, combining a colonnade of vertical blocks with a series of shifting color studies in pink and blue. Up close, the photographs are full of grainy splashes and misty gradients, drifting between foggy billows and textural oxidations. From afar, their surfaces are mirrored, so they bounce reflections around the room, echoing the spatial relationships between the visitors, the color fields, and the white concrete pillars. While I think I understood the intention here, to my eye, this mirroring became a distraction, making it nearly impossible to see the nuanced variations in the photographs with any clarity; the photographs lost their diaphanous mystery when covered up by recognizable reflections, especially when the gallery was crowded.

While this installation is successful in creating a dreamlike mood and making a visual point about contrasts, I think only a handful of the torso images can really function successfully as stand alone photographs; the rest really require the proximity of the columnar sculptures to resonate fully. Overall, I came away more intrigued by what VanDerBeek was discovering in the fleeting in-between spaces between these artworks than with the individual pieces themselves.

Collector’s POV: The photographs in this show are priced between $6000 and $30000 based on size. VanDerBeek’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail is still likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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