The Material Image @Marianne Boesky

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 33 works by 18 different artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls throughout the 3 floors of the brownstone gallery, including the entry foyer, the stairwell, and the bathroom. The show was curated by Debra Singer.

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

  • Michele Abeles: 1 digital c-print with ceramic tile, 2010-2014, sized 42×32, in an edition of 5
  • Lucas Blalock: 1 chromogenic print, 2012, sized roughly 38×32, in an edition of 3+2AP, and 2 archival inkjet prints, 2013, sized roughly 19×24, unique
  • Sam Falls: 1 moving blanket, 2013, sized 80×72, unique, and 1 ikat fabric, 2014, sized 50×35, unique
  • Ryan Foerster: 1 aluminum offset printing plate, ink, deli plastic bags, 2014, sized 40×30, unique and 1 c-print, 2006-2014, sized 40×30, unique
  • Amy Granat: 1 photogram collage, 2010, sized roughly 20×16, unique
  • Rachel Harrison: 1 wood, polystyrene, cement, acrylic, scanner, and found photograph, 2006, sized 30x18x27, unique
  • Leslie Hewitt: 1 digital c-print, 2012, sized 30×40, in an edition of 5
  • John Houck: 1 archival pigment print, 2014, sized 24×32, in an edition of 3+2AP
  • Barbara Kasten: 1 archival pigment print, 2012, sized roughly 54×44, in an edition of 5, 1 Polaroid, 1982, sized 10×8, in an edition of 10, 1 cyanotype, 1975, sized 30×40, unique, and 1 cibachrome print, 1986, sized 40×30, in an edition of 10
  • Jason Loebs: 1 installation of 4 Kodak Ultra Endura Color Emulsion Paper boxes, 2014, each box sized 9x10x34, unique
  • Nick Mauss: 2 black and white contact prints from glass negatives, 2014, sized roughly 20×16 or reverse, unique
  • Ken Okiishi: 3 inkjet prints, 2007-2014, each sized 11×14, in editions of 5+1AP
  • Arthur Ou: 1 primer, enamel, silver halide, acrylic, and dirt on canvas, 2014, sized 40×30 (each panel), unique, and 1 archival pigment print on rag paper, 2013, sized 24×30, in an edition of 5
  • Anthony Pearson: 3 solarized gelatin silver prints, 2008, 2009, and 2013, sized roughly 18×13 and 7×5, unique
  • Marina Pinsky: 1 inkjet print on aluminum,2013, sized 36×28, unique
  • Mariah Robertson: 1 color print, 2014, sized 50×50, unique, and 1 color print on metallic paper, 2012, sized 30×1968, unique
  • Matt Saunders: 2 c-prints on Kodak Endura Premier matte, 2013 and 2014, sized roughly 50×41 and 22×33, unique
  • Chris Wiley: 1 archival inkjet print on aluminum in artist’s frame with fabric, 2914, sized 42×28, in an edition of 3

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Given all of the disruptive innovation that has taken place in contemporary photography in the past decade and the seemingly accelerating pace of that change, it isn’t surprising that we continue to search for ways to thoughtfully explain what’s been happening. This survey show is just the most recent example of taking a sampler of freshly created photographic work (increasingly broadly defined) and trying to put it in some kind of intelligent context; in this past year alone, we need only look to Fixed Variable at Hauser & Wirth (here), Frameshift at Denny (here), The New Beauty of Our Modern Life at Higher Pictures (here), and What is a Photograph? at the ICP (here) to consider other variants of this same making-sense-of-it-all exercise. The fact that these shows keep appearing should tell us something about the exciting instability we’re all perceiving in the medium and about the unfulfilled nature of our ongoing pursuit of definitive “answers”.

While the vast majority of the work on view in The Material Image was made in the past year or two, the thematic curatorial overlayer of the show is decidedly backward looking – this isn’t a show about newfangled photography intermingling with net art or post-Internet art, nor is it one particularly interested in new digital/software/network technologies and their impact of photographic image making and distribution. Instead, this show digs its fingers into process, tying recent painterly and sculptural extensions/effects in with throwback processes, expressionistic gestures, and collage techniques. It’s a view of contemporary photography that hinges on ongoing recycling and recombination, where the path forward is largely derived from reconsidering elements from the past in new ways. From my vantage point, such an argument is perhaps valid in many ways, but it drains much of the vigorous, risk taking life out of the recent revolution and misses much of the digital disorder and dislocation that is fueling the fire; this approach leans a little too heavily on reaction and not enough on forward-looking white space expansion.

Structurally, the works of Barbara Kasten (long overdue for her upcoming retrospective at the ICA in Philadelphia here) and Anthony Pearson (part of the Boesky stable) form the scaffolding of this show and many of the leading names of the moment (Blalock, Houck, Abeles, Robertson, Falls et. al.) are slotted into a loose dialogue with their images. Pearson’s intimate solarized abstractions happily connect with Amy Granat’s photogram collage and Nick Mauss’ cliché verre scratched negatives, while Kasten’s intricate studio constructions provide thoughtful foils for John Houck’s mind bending compass still life, Leslie Hewitt’s perilously perched plywood square, and even the more digitally constructed compositions of Michele Abeles (adding Kate Steciw-like sculptural decoration to the surface this particular work) and Lucas Blalock.

The more painterly tributary of the larger photographic river is represented by Arthur Ou, Ryan Foerster, Mariah Robertson, and more indirectly, Sam Falls. The single best work on view in this show is hung in the bathroom – a lovely muscular Robertson chemical dance that quietly echoes the grid of the floor tiles; while the townhouse architecture of this gallery generally chops up the flow of this multi-floor show to its detriment, this particular installation has a flash of genius. Sadly, Robertson’s other inclusion, a massive roll of never ending chemical gesture and chance, is only minimally unraveled in a corner and largely unseeable. Foerster’s works echo Robertson’s expressiveness, with swirling blasts of wet looking chemicals and ink stained deli bags. Falls seems to stand at the edge of this chaotic photographic swimming pool, reconsidering how overtly connected to photography he is willing to be; his moving blanket and stretched ikat intentionally faded by the sun are tangential relatives of light sensitive photographic processes, but seem to be reaching out beyond a purely photographic mindset toward broader and more abstract objecthood.

It seems likely that shows like this one will proliferate in the coming years, as more curators step into the ring and try to wrestle the beast that photography has become to the floor. This show certainly has parts of the evolving story clarified and codified, but it misses some important details that others will likely soon to fill in. It feels like we are on a slow iterative train, where each successive attempt at an all encompassing analytical framework gets closer or contributes new insights, but the simple, elegant articulation we dream of remains stubbornly elusive. Perhaps that’s just the definition of a fast-moving period of artistic flux, where the rules keep changing and the consensus viewpoint takes time to catch up; everyone is watching everyone else, borrowing, incorporating, and twisting the new ideas as they emerge, the whole cohort constantly pushing forward. Each show like this one gamely refines the ideas once more, but I for one hope the artists/photographers find a way to stay ahead of the curators, as that will signal that the radical innovation that has been so thoroughly energizing for the medium hasn’t yet slowed down.

Collector’s POV: The individual works in this group show are priced as follows; some of the works were sold or NFS as of a few weeks ago:

  • Michele Abeles: sold
  • Lucas Blalock: $6000, sold
  • Sam Falls: sold, NFS
  • Ryan Foerster: $7000 each
  • Amy Granat: $7500
  • Rachel Harrison: NFS
  • Leslie Hewitt: $7500
  • John Houck: $8000
  • Barbara Kasten: $20000, $10000, $16500, $25000
  • Jason Loebs: $12000
  • Nick Mauss: $10000 each
  • Ken Okiishi: $3500 each
  • Arthur Ou: $5500, $10000
  • Anthony Pearson: $6000 each
  • Marina Pinsky: $7500
  • Mariah Robertson: $40000, sold
  • Matt Saunders: $14000, sold
  • Chris Wiley: $8500

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Read more about: Amy Granat, Anthony Pearson, Arthur Ou, Barbara Kasten, Chris Wiley, Jason Loebs, John Houck, Ken Okiishi, Leslie Hewitt, Lucas Blalock, Mariah Robertson, Marina Pinsky, Matt Saunders, Michele Abeles, Nick Mauss, Rachel Harrison, Ryan Foerster, Sam Falls, Marianne Boesky Gallery

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