Time Management Techniques @Whitney

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the works of 10 different artists/partnerships, variously framed and matted, and generally hung against white walls on the third floor of the museum, and additionally seen on glass walls on the fourth floor. The works in the exhibition were drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, and the show was organized by Elisabeth Sherman.

The following artists/works have been included:

  • Shannon Ebner & David Reinfurt: 5 posters, 2014-2015
  • Katherine Hubbard: 11 gelatin silver prints, 2016
  • EJ Hill: 1 inkjet print, 2018
  • Sky Hopinka: 2 inkjet prints with hand scratched text, 2019
  • Darrel Ellis: 1 gelatin silver print, 1987
  • Corin Hewitt: 9 inkjet prints, 2008-2009
  • Lew Thomas: 1 set of 72 gelatin silver prints mounted on board, 1971
  • Blythe Bohnen: 1 graphite pencil on paper and gelatin silver print, 1968
  • Muriel Hasbun: 1 selenium gelatin silver print, 1992-1997
  • Dawn Kasper: 2 inkjet prints, 2012

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Since a camera mechanically (or computationally) captures an image of what sits in front of the lens during the split second the shutter is open, almost by definition the process of making a photograph reduces time to a single, immediate moment. But time is an undeniably elusive concept, and photographers across the history of the medium have deliberately tried to extend photography’s static moment, devising various creative strategies for bringing past, present, and future into the frame. This tightly edited group show gathers together a sampler of works that investigate the malleable nature of photographic time, pushing and pulling on the boundaries of how we can visualize its passing.

The two earliest works in the show reach back to the photoconceptual examinations of measuring time and duration from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Lew Thomas’s grids of darkroom timers, in opposing positive and negative tonalities, divide time into intervals of just a second or two, matching the 36 exposure structure of a roll of film to the divisions of one contiguous minute. Blythe Bothen’s contribution makes a related pairing, with four pencil point dots made on one page, while a long exposure photograph captures the movement of her hand and arm in the other; the motions turn ghostly as the action progresses, creating a pleasing confusion between the actual pencil drawing and the photograph of the collapsed-time making of that diagram. These ideas of creating visual processes to measure time then jump to the present with Katherine Hubbard’s images, which are spread throughout the gallery installation like the refrain of a melody. Hubbard’s works use melting ice as a time trapping method, with differing angles and batches of river water creating frozen wisps, fogs, crystals, and other obscure light and dark patterns that are then captured by light sensitive paper as the melting takes place; the resulting scratchy textures and mysterious marks indirectly chart the passing of time, like ancient scrawled inscriptions on now weathered rocks.

Other artists use layering and rephotography to intermingle past and present. Darrel Ellis and Muriel Hasbun both use images from family archives in their compositions, recombining these fragments in new ways to probe (and construct) revised and composite personal histories, essentially collapsing past into present and acknowledging the legacies of those that came before in their own lives. Sky Hopinka and Shannon Ebner instead use layering to intervene and redefine the relationships of place and time. Hopinka has mixed together landscape transparencies from different parts of America, jumbling the specific references and notions of time, while Ebner wheatpasted posters of the letter A around New York, and then returned to photograph the results as time passed, the scratching and scraping of everyday life erasing the usual historical distinctions between now and then.

The rest of the artists in this show take a more performative look at the uneasy intersection of time and photography. Corin Hewitt’s photographs were made during a performance, with everyday objects piled up together into dense abstractions, where agglomerations of leftover food, patterned fabrics, and rephotographed imagery are arranged into unexpectedly intricate and sophisticated geometries. Dawn Kasper’s pictures also start with performance, but instead document the passing of time (and the interaction with others during her artmaking) via images of still life objects, like a now-discarded eye patch. And EJ Hill sees both the performative and time-based aspects of public sculpture, turning the dramatic stance of a Spanish American War cemetery monument into a more nuanced reflection on the changing nature of these kinds of symbols for those who encounter them in the present.

What’s notable about this quietly brainy exhibit is that it isn’t really content driven, at least in a direct sense – time doesn’t it lend itself to being the overt subject, so the artists here have had to craft indirect ways to get at its abstractions and complexities. Ideas shows like this one force visitors to think, rather than just blandly wandering and consuming the visuals, thereby reinforcing that there is more to photography (and art more generally) than simply what we might simply see on the surface. A little friction and challenge asks us to slow down and engage more fully, and this is the kind of show that really only reveals its richness when that kind of patient investment of attention occurs. Good for the Whitney for asking us to wrestle with something less than entirely obvious, and for offering us a range of thoughtfully chosen artistic solutions to an invisible problem.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum exhibition, there are of course no posted prices, and given the large number of artists included, we will forego our usual discussion of individual gallery representation relationships and secondary market histories.

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Read more about: Blythe Bohnen, Corin Hewitt, Darrel Ellis, Dawn Kasper, EJ Hill, Katherine Hubbard, Lew Thomas, Muriel Hasbun, Shannon Ebner, Sky Hopinka, Whitney Museum of American Art

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Hatje Cantz (here). Hardcover, 23×29.7 cm, 200 pages, with 110 color illustrations. Includes essays (in German and English) by Jens Asthoff and ... Read on.

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