JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 works, both color and black and white, hung in the reception and main gallery spaces. 3 of the works are from the Typus series and consist of groups of c-prints (either 5, 6, or 7 individual prints) framed in brown and not matted, and hung in tight groups that each measure 67×59. Each group of prints is also accompanied by a printed list of scientific names. These works are made in editions of 3+1, and were taken in 2005. 3 additional works come from the Life among beasts series and consist of gelatin silver prints mounted to aluminum (2, 3, or 4 prints) hung together without frames. The works vary in size from 36×40 to 58×65, are made in editions of 3+1, and were taken in 2009. The final 3 images are all single gelatin silver prints mounted to aluminum and not framed, ranging in size from 13×12 to 24×17. These prints are made in editions of 5+1, and were taken in 2009. (Installation shots at right.)
When the title “conceptual photographer” is overtly bestowed upon someone, as a collector, I read this as secret code for “in this case, the actual pictures don’t matter at all; it is the ideas that underlie them that I should be concerned with”. While one might conclude that all conceptual photography will therefore be cerebral, intellectual, and oftentimes indecipherable, in my experience, conceptual photography can also be quite witty and subversive, assuming you get the inside jokes. But when the word “German” is added in front of the term “conceptual photographer”, it’s hard not to think of the serious deadpan objectivity of the Bechers
It is with these biases that I visited this show by the German conceptual photographer Ulrich Gebert. Both of the bodies of work on display are generally concerned with idea of man’s desire to control nature. In the Typus series, Gebert has gone to botanical gardens and made straightforward color images of a wide variety of coniferous trees and shrubs (the pictures themselves are reminiscent of a natural history field guide). The conceptual twist is that all of these species have disputed scientific names: over time, they all have been “discovered” or named by more than one person, with one Latin name eventually becoming the dominant or “right” name. A printed sheet that accompanies the images (the “List of Invalid Names”) details the “before” and “after” names of these plants. While the press release text ties these images to racism and the “totalitarian categorizations of humans”, I have to admit I didn’t really see that connection. What I saw was the obsessive human instinct toward control and order, the self-centered taxonimization of the environment around us, in the face of the mute indifference of the natural world (which really doesn’t care what we call things).
The Life among beasts series is altogether more unsettling. In these images, Gebert has taken appropriated photos of humans interacting with domesticated animals (many of them dated veterinary shots I would guess), cropped them down to fragments, and blown them up to a size that exposes the halftone printing dots. Animals of various kinds (horses, pigs, even a possum) are poked, prodded, groped, fondled and handled in a weirdly disturbing way. Hung in combinations and groups, the concept of man doing what he wants with the natural world comes through powerfully, and is more than a little ridiculous and creepy.
All in, the show delivers what was promised: a thought-provoking and sometimes quirky use of photography to explore deeper ideas and hidden truths.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The Typus groups are 6500€ each, regardless of the number of prints included. The Life among beasts groups are 3200€, 4800€, and 5500€, based on overall size. The smaller single image prints are 400€, 500€, and 850€ . Gebert’s work does not seem to have found its way to the secondary markets yet, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.
* (one star) GOOD (rating system described here
- Review: Village Voice (here)
- Article: Foam (here)
Through February 13th
621 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001