Tamar Halpern, My Voice at the Pace of Drifting Clouds @On Stellar Rays

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 large scale photographic works, hung unframed against white walls in the main gallery space, the back office, and the entry area. All of the works are UltraChrome ink and archival paper on linen, made in 2014. Physical sizes are either 68×58, 70×60,or 74×54, and all of the works are unique. The show also includes a unique triptych of photographic collages made in 2012. Each panel is UltraChrome ink and archival tape on paper, sized roughly 28×24. A limited edition artist’s book is on sale in the entry for $1200. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: One of the inadvertent byproducts of the inkjet printing revolution is that photographic collage has also gotten a much needed jolt of new energy. When we think of photocollage, we usually imagine a dainty cut and paste world, where images of all kinds (photographs, magazine reproductions, vernacular and found imagery, etc.) are physically combined via a meticulous, hand crafted process. And while it certainly possible to make massive photocollage using these old school techniques, most operate on an intimate scale, creating a “get close to the frame and see the careful juxtapositions” kind of experience. But given that digital inkjet printing has made turning a photograph into a painting commonplace, it is now much more possible than ever before to intermingle photography, painting, and collage, and much easier to do so on a meaningfully larger scale.

Tamar Halpern’s newest works are big, muscular collages that cover a wall. Gone is the Xacto-knifed precision we are used to in small scale works – hers are more boldly operatic, even when they depict an unassuming swatch of flowered wallpaper or a wandering studio cat. The works combine moments of fleeting photographic recognizability with visible, process driven, additive layering – large areas of paper are glued directly onto the linen, with formal geometric interplay created using various stages of built-up printing and reprinting.

Halpern’s aesthetic is both machined and roughly personal, but neither expressively painterly nor gestural. Misaligned dots sweep across surfaces, colored polygons cover corners, and image fragments float underneath repetitions of ink, with hand cut edges and torn strips revealing themselves as both over and under upon close inspection. It is improvisational collage writ large, and the resulting images have retained the immediacy we associate with maquettes and reworked drafts.

A small triptych in the entry area shows Halpern’s roots –  each panel is a pictures-on-pictures layered photocollage put together with tape. Elegant in its own right, it now feels like a prelude to the supersizing that has taken over the main gallery.

While there are visual reminders here of Rauschenberg’s photographic silkscreens and the works of a multitude of painters who have created layering effects on the surfaces of their canvases, Halpern’s collages feel like a wedge driven in from another direction. They’ve embraced inkjet printing as a usable process, but haven’t been brainwashed by the history of painting. Instead, they seem to have grow up from photographic seeds, and are extending that mindset wherever the new technologies allow. To someone from the world of photography, they feel wholly familiar, and yet enlarged to a point that the old compositional rules have been energetically transformed. It’s as if the hand crafted photocollage has been reinvented, boosted into another realm by newfound scale.

Collector’s POV: The large scale works in this show are priced at $16000 each, while the triptych is $12000. While a 2009 work by Halpern sold at Phillips earlier this month for roughly $4000, there haven’t been enough public transactions in the past few years to chart much of a secondary market price history. This likely means that gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by TBW Books (here). Casebound hardcover (11.5 x 13.5 inches) with marbled paper dust jacket, printed in two initial editions, red (first) and ... Read on.

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