Tanyth Berkeley, Grace @Danziger

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 color images, framed to the edge in either black or white, with no mat, displayed in the single room gallery space. Sizes range from 24×20 to 63×28 (full body size), and are printed in editions of 5. (Marginal installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: I was first exposed to the work of Tanyth Berkeley at the New Photography 2007 exhibit at the MoMA, where her portraits had an electricity that monopolized the available attention. Continuing a line of thinking drawn back through Diane Arbus and Lisette Model, Berkeley makes realist portraits of unusual people with a sense of intimate care and genuine curiosity. She has pointed her camera at transgendered people, people with albinism, and a whole range of folks who fall outside society’s normal definitions of beauty, finding unique stories to tell in each and every one.
In the show at the MoMA, while there were plenty of startling full body portraits, I remember being completely awestruck by a smaller image of a woman named Grace, seated by a window with an ethereal light coming from behind, as though she was glowing. It was like a Renaissance portrait of a saint or angel, at the very moment of some kind of spiritual ecstasy. (Grace in Window, 2006, at right.) It struck me then, as it does now, as one of the best contemporary portraits I’ve seen in a very long time, likely to age well and remain inspiring over many years. As an aside, a print of this image went into the MoMA’s permanent collection.

This image is on display at Danziger Projects as part of larger body of Berkeley’s recent work focused on this woman. Grace Longoria’s albinism makes her skin and hair radiantly white, and she is often photographed with her eyes closed, due to her increased intolerance of bright light. The images in the show find her in different poses and clothes, but always with the same delicacy and fragility. Not all of the images rise to the same lofty heights as her portrait by the window, but clearly, the artist and muse have found a working relationship that allows them to take some risks.

Collector’s POV: The images in the show are reasonably priced between $2800 and $6800. Berkeley’s work doesn’t even remotely fit into our particular collection; contemporary color portraits are about as far from our specific genres as one could imagine.
But I can say with some conviction that I believe Grace in Window will end up being among the hallmark contemporary portraits of this decade. (Stop and digest that comment for a moment, as it’s a real whopper.) Since there is only one left, priced at $6800, if we were contemporary photography collectors looking for signature images from these times, I’d pick up the phone right now and put in on hold before it vanishes.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Through April 25th
534 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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