Stephen Shore @303

JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are pigment prints, made in 2017. Each print is sized 64×48 inches, and is available in an edition of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Big and sharp are the two words that come most quickly to mind when visiting Stephen Shore’s uneventful show of new works. Conveniently scheduled to coincide with his well-deserved MoMA retrospective (reviewed here), the new pictures extend his life-long interest in looking closely at the mundane, seeing richness and depth in subjects overlooked by others.

In these recent photographs, Shore has, for the most part, pointed his camera downward, observing the infinite worlds to be found in urban gutters, on city sidewalks, and amid dusty pathways and rocky grounds. Sharp diagonals orient the best of the images, the crisp edge where the street meets a building or gutter creating slashing lines that draw our eye up and to the right. He shows us singular details – a popped balloon and colorful dangling ribbons, a crushed Dunkin’ Donuts bag, the stepwise regularity of a blue brick wall – and then pushes our eye away from those central attentions and around the frame to window displays of shoes, crusty leaf debris, and a lonely stick, creating motion where there is none.

Other images revel in the intense detail of textured surfaces. While his studies of the all-over filigrees of rippled water and dense greenery are largely bland and forgettable, the cracked whiteness of salt-encrusted dirt and the grimy speckles of peeling yellow painted concrete are absorbingly tactile, encouraging us to dive into their self-contained worlds.

A pair of more complex works recalls Irving Penn’s studies of evocative gutter minutiae. One work examines the collection of items trapped in the hollow of an asphalt-encrusted tree root, where cigarette butts, a bottle cap, a coffee mixer, a lollipop stick, and a leafy green twig arrange themselves into an intricately layered still life stew. A similar effect occurs with a gestural arrangement of desert detritus, the underlayer of rocks and dirt given life by the swooping curves of tire remnants and the formal geometries of rusty car parts.

But from an artistic point of view, Shore has shown us little here that we haven’t seen elsewhere before. He seems to have been enamored with the gee-whiz power of the newest digital technology, the high resolution allowing him to make images that enlarge effectively. Without going down the dark rat hole of the digital versus film argument or unpacking various apples and oranges comparisons of resolution, these images (made with a 50 megapixel Hasselblad camera) are finely detailed, even at wall-filling scale. The prints are as large as Shore has ever made, perfect for contemporary art collectors, but that hulking presence pushes some of the photographs into the large scale texture-as-decoration mode of Frank Thiel.

Mostly, this show feels like a starting point, where Shore is getting comfortable with the power of new tools, running through standard tests and exercises to put the camera through its paces and gauge its results. Having proven that he can now experiment with massive scale more fully, I hope we see him extend himself more aggressively, taking more aesthetic risks than simply documenting the same underfoot sidewalk discoveries photographers have been making for a century.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $45000 each, in rising editions. Shore’s work (both vintage and later prints) is routinely available at auction, generally ranging in price between roughly $1000 and $44000.

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