The Actual @Eleven Rivington

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 25 works by 6 different artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against grey and white walls in the gallery’s Rivington Street and Chrystie Street spaces.

The following artists/photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of works on view and their details as background:

  • Marsha Cottrell: 4 laser toner on paper prints, 2014, sized between roughly 9×8 and 12×18, each unique
  • Sara Cwynar: 2 chromogenic prints mounted on Plexiglas, 2014, each sized 40×32, in editions of 3+2AP
  • Jessica Eaton: 4 Fujiflex prints, 2011/2014, each sized 40×32, in editions of 4
  • John Houck: 2 creased archival pigment print diptychs, 2014, sized 10×15 and 24×30, each unique, and 1 archival pigment print, 2013, sized 29×23, in an edition of 3+2AP
  • Jason Kalogiros: 7 gelatin silver prints, 2014, each sized 11×14 and unique
  • Miranda Lichtenstein: 3 Polaroid prints, 2001 and 2013, each sized roughly 5×4 and unique, and 2 archival pigment prints, 2013, each sized roughly 50×34, in editions of 5+2AP

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: While it has become easy to categorize a certain strain of contemporary photography as being “process driven”, shows like this one are evidence that we are woefully behind the curve in terms of developing a more robust and sophisticated descriptive vocabulary for this expanding genre of work. An artistic exploration of photographic process can come in the confines of the studio, in the darkroom, inside the camera itself, in software, in the printer, in fact at nearly any step in the movement from conceptualization to end product, both in analog and digital forms. So what’s surprising is that while it might be convenient to lump all of these experiments in the same enormous bucket, the truth is that a deep examination of any one facet (or multiple discrete facets) of “process” is not necessarily related to or informed by an examination of any other (even if their subject matter is the same), except in the broad commonality of looking for new ways to break down and rethink photographic picture making. Perhaps we need to develop a photographic heredity chart of “process”, with branches and subspecies for each evolutionary layer of thinking, so we’re not lumping photograms, digital collages, and rephotography into the same oversized laundry bag. We need to be able to succinctly describe the “what” of the specific activity, before we can ever get on to truly understanding whether the “why” is durably interesting.

Works on view here by Jessica Eaton and Miranda Lichtenstein share an interest in light filtration, although the two photographers are employing markedly different methods of exploring the boundaries of how a camera sees. Eaton is down in the technical weeds of the optical science, tuning the polarization of the light to unlock explosions of swirling mottled color hiding in the stresses and folds of clear plastic packing tape and flower shop cellophane; her controlled manipulations take place in camera, capturing vibrant effects unseen by the human eye. Lichtenstein is using various veils and scrims to introduce all over texture, pattern, and distortion to her still lifes, and then rephotographing up close fragments of her own Polaroids to create enlarged abstractions. Her interventions are happening between the camera and the studio set up, and are often amplified by the reflections and refractions of light hitting the glass surfaces of bottles and jugs.

Jason Kalogiros and Marsha Cottrell are more focused on iteration and reproduction in their investigations of process, using repetitive elements of drawing and printing to build up their works incrementally. Kalogiros’ images look like rectangular swatches of screen door mesh, but upon closer inspection, their linear grids reveal themselves to be meticulously hand drawn, complete with small imperfections and tiny drips of ink. The final images are copy camera reversals of the original drawings, the tonalities inverted into subtle white lines on grey, like a bridge between Agnes Martin and photography. Cottrell’s works are made of layers of laser toner ink, the pages fed through the printer countless times to create the appearance of architectural depth in her geometric abstractions. Small shifts and realignments create fuzzy gradation, balancing the deep richness of the blacks. For both artists, the process is step by step additive, with no ability to go back and make changes; it’s improvisation without a safety net.

Sara Cwynar and John Houck bring a more conceptual mind set to the process discussion. Cwynar’s loose typology of bananas isn’t a rigid Becher lookalike; instead it uses layers of rephotography to insert thumbs and fingers into each appropriated/found cutout image, and then she further twists the set up by calling our attention to an O’Sullivan-like measuring stick (to realign our sense of scale) and the rumpled corner of the felt of the green backdrop (to reiterate a sense of imperfect physicality). Houck’s ongoing Aggregates series starts with software (where the color grids are generated), and then transitions into iterations of rephotography that confuse his layers of physical folds; he’s cleverly pulling on our visual expectations, seamlessly intermingling an image of a fold with an actual one. His recent still life plays with some of the same ideas, using a beaded glass, a shaving brush, and a bubblewrap bag as elements in a game of trompe l’oeil iteration, where shadows are cast in competing directions, objects appear in multiple places at once, and paper edges seem to overlap and reshift. Both are using complex combinations of sophisticated visual ideas to deliver deceptively confusing outcomes.

To my eye, Houck and Eaton are the farthest ahead (in this group) in terms of leveraging inward looking process to develop an original line of photographic thinking. Both are pulling away from simple process for process’ sake (where all we can remark on is the process itself) and moving on to thornier and more refined questions about perception (where the images can stand on their own without an immediate explication of how they were made). This small survey is a solid entry-level sampler of some of the process oriented work that is being done today, but its curatorial framework would need to be much tighter if it had hopes of untangling and thoughtfully organizing the density of process-centric photography made in the past decade.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows, listed below by artist/photographer:

  • Marsha Cottrell: $3200 to $4800 each
  • Sara Cwynar: $6000 each
  • Jessica Eaton: $8200 each
  • John Houck: $11000/sold/NFS
  • Jason Kalogiros: $2400 each
  • Miranda Lichtenstein: $3000 each for the Polaroids, $12000 each for the pigment prints

Gallery representation relationships for the included artists/photographers are as follows:

  • Marsha Cottrell: representation unknown
  • Sara Cwynar: Foxy Production (here)
  • Jessica Eaton: Higher Pictures (here)
  • John Houck: On Stellar Rays (here)
  • Jason Kalogiros: representation unknown
  • Miranda Lichtenstein: Elizabeth Dee (here)

None of these artists has developed a significant secondary market presence/history, so gallery retail (or direct contact with the artist as appropriate) remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Jason Kalogiros, Jessica Eaton, John Houck, Marsha Cottrell, Miranda Lichtenstein, Sara Cwynar, 11R Gallery, 11R Gallery

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