Valérie Belin @Edwynn Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 black and white photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the main gallery space. 6 of the works on view are large scale pigment prints, sized 82×62 or 73×55 and available in editions of 3. The other 2 works are smaller gelatin silver prints, sized 5×7 and available in editions of 5. All of the works were made in 2012. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Edwynn Houk has recently taken on representation of Valérie Belin and this show offers a small sampler of her most recent work. In the past few years, Belin’s photography has taken on a consistent look and feel, settling into the dark middle tones of grey and black and sandwiching negatives together into dense, layered compositions. Her new pictures resist easy recognition and force closer inspection to unpack their rich, tactile mysteries.

The most successful images in this show are Belin’s conflicted images of brides. Her images mix classic studio portraits of brides with princess tiaras and elaborate floral bouquets with storefront shots of adult DVD stores and sex shops covered in shouting neon. The effect is something akin to Robert Heinecken’s magazine interventions, but with the harshness softened into something more inscrutable. Belin uses the same approach in a series of nudes, with a curvy burlesque performer juxtaposed with an array of backstage TV studio gear (including a flashing APPLAUSE sign) or the furniture of a stylish 70’s living room. The final pair of images on display dive down the rabbit hole of cluttered, overstuffed, hoarder-style interiors, with walls and shelves filled to the breaking point with collected stuff. Belin’s dark palette gives these intimate reflections of personality an ominous tint.

If Belin’s multiple negative works had been printed smaller, they might have had a Surreal feel, but at such large scale, they become almost abstract, the interlocking images breaking down into fragments and snippets of something identifiable. The layered images fight with each other, struggling for visual dominance, pushing the viewer’s ultimate conclusion back and forth between opposing poles. In the end, it’s an uneasy balance, the images settling into intermingled uncertainty.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The large pigment prints are $32000 each and the smaller gelatin silver prints are $7500 each. Belin’s work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets in the past few years, with prices ranging from roughly $5000 to $15000.

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