Ulrich Gebert, The Negotiated Order @Winkleman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 photographic works hung unframed in the entry and the main gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints mounted to Dibond, with cardboard, MDF, wallpaper, lacquer and/or linen, and were made in 2012. Physical dimensions range from 9×11 to 23×15, and each work is available in an edition of 3+1AP. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Ulrich Gebert’s newest works continue his conceptual exploration of the human urge to order the natural world, once again using our relationship with animals as the basis for investigating our controlling behavior. In his previous series, Life Among Beasts, he used appropriated images of humans interacting with domesticated animals to highlight the weirdly disturbing way we touch and handle these creatures. In these new works, he once again returns to archival and found imagery, this time deftly removing the animals, leaving the humans in strange one-sided exchanges and conversations.

While a trainer holding a hoop for a jumping dog or using a fish to entice a seal to do tricks in the air might seem like ordinary events, when the animal is erased, the narrative is interrupted and left unresolved, the human stuck in a kind of awkward, surreal pantomime. People call and pet invisible dogs, feed invisible horses, and stand back apprehensively, with sticks and whips at the ready for who knows what kind of invisible animals. Our gestures in this absence are disorienting, oddly formal, and often completely ridiculous. Instead of matting and framing these manipulated black and white photographs in a traditional manner (which would have made them look like a 1970s conceptual throwback), Gebert has embedded the photographs in off center rectangular canvases, which have been painted in muted colors. The effect is to make the works feel more like objects, reducing their tendency to seem like inexplicable documentary evidence.

The best of the images in this show avoid the trap of the obvious visual one-liner and leave us with something more open ended and uneasy. Gebert’s sleight of hand has removed the certainty in our interactions with these animals, leaving behind a unsettling sense of not knowing what might happen next.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at either $2800 or $3300 each, based on size. Gebert’s work is not yet available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

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