Stan Douglas, DCTs and Scenes from the Blackout @David Zwirner

JTF (just the facts): In the front gallery: Ten large-scale color photographs, unmatted, in black frames, hung against white walls. All the photographs are digital chromogenic prints dated 2017, mounted on Dibond aluminum. They range in size from roughly 36×36 inches to 95×71 inches unframed and are available in editions of 5+2AP.

In the East gallery: Ten abstract compositions, created on a computer using a custom-designed program that manipulates a series of data points referred to as a “DCT” (discrete cosine transform) and printed on gessoed panels with UV ink, hung against white walls. Each composition is unique and roughly 59x59x2 inches.

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: For more than 30 years, Vancouver-based artist Stan Douglas has explored the history of the modern era in films, and installations, and photographs, with particular attention to moments of societal, political, and economic change. His work of the past decade has often taken the form of cinematic stills—involving extensive location shooting, costumed actors, and state-of-the-art digital imaging—that reimagine scenes (usually on the fringes of the main action) from these historical turning points: the 1970s underground disco scene in New York, for instance, or the 2011 riots in London.

Douglas’s newest series of staged photographs moves closer to our own times, depicting a hypothetical future blackout in a New York City of the near future. A show of these works at David Zwirner starts with two panoramic views. In the first of these, a tangle of on-ramps and overpasses in the foreground seems strangely deserted for the middle of the day, as if in preparation for a disaster. In the second, a full moon floats high above the city skyline, which rests in darkness save for some lighted windows in the tallest buildings.

The unnatural clarity of these pictures carries through in the rest of the works in the show, with scenes of relative order, including a shot of stranded travelers calmly chatting or dozing on a flight of marble steps, alternating with more ominous images, such as that of a group of young women carrying an older one down a dark stairwell by the light of a cell phone. A midtown intersection with a few working streetlights seems peaceful enough, but at another four-way stop—occupied by a riderless police horse, a looter with her arms full of boxes of Huggies, and a pair of men with baseball bats standing over a scattering of broken mannequins—the situation is evidently deteriorating.

A group of kaleidoscopic abstract compositions, created with a custom software program, hangs in the adjoining gallery. While quite beautiful, they serve chiefly to underscore the constructed nature of the “Blackout” photographs, and perhaps photographs in general. At the same time, the “Blackout” series, while clearly meant as an indicator of larger conditions, lacks Douglas’s usual lightness of touch. Perhaps, like many of us these days, he finding truth to be stranger than fiction.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows, with some works already sold. The “DCT” pieces are $60000 each, while the “Blackout” prints range between $35000 and $100000, based on size. Douglas’s photographic work has been available at auction only intermittently in recent years, and none of his more recent large-scale images have come up for sale. So while secondary market prices span from $1000 to $35000, this data is not entirely representative of his entire body of work, including his videos. This being the case, gallery retail may still be the best option for interested collectors.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Void Publishing (here). Open spine softcover (16,8 x 24 cm), 168 pages, with 106 color photographs. In an edition of 350 copies. ... Read on.

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