Versus @Hous Projects

JTF (just the facts): A group show comprised of a total of 63 photographs from 18 different photographers, variously framed and matted, and densely hung (salon style) in the entry and gallery spaces that wrap around to the right. The show was curated by collector/blogger/photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers are included in the exhibit, with the number of images on view in parentheses and detailed specs to follow. Unfortunately, the exhibition checklist is full of typos, mistakes, and omissions; in addition, the images on the website do not entirely match those on the walls (I was told some were sent to LA, so some replacements were hung), so consider the information below to be the best of what was available at the time (please feel free to correct any inaccuracies via the comments):

  • Jen Davis (3): Chromogenic prints, 20×24, in editions of 10, from 2003/2005.
  • Amy Elkins (3): C-prints, 20×16 or 24×20, uneditioned, from 2008.
  • Elizabeth Fleming (3): Giclee prints, 14×21, in editions of 15, from 2007/2008.
  • Kris Graves (3): Digital chromogenic prints, 16×20, uneditioned, from 2006/2008.
  • Molly Landreth (4): Digital pigment prints, 16×29, uneditioned, from 2007.
  • Alex Leme (4): Archival pigment prints, 16×24 or 10×15, uneditioned, from 2009.
  • Gina LeVay (3): Archival pigment prints, 20×24, in edtions of 10, from 2007/2008.
  • Ruben Natal-San Miguel (7): C-prints, 16×20 or 24×20, in editions of 6 and 5 respectively, from 2007/2009.
  • Eric Ogden (3): Archival pigment prints, 30×40 or 20×24, in editions of 4 and 6 respectively, from 2009.
  • Cara Phillips (3): Gelatin silver prints, 30×24, in editions of 5, from 2008.
    Matthew Pillsbury (3): Archival pigment prints, 13×19, uneditioned, from 2008.
  • Nadine Rovner (4): Archival pigment inkjet prints, 24×30, in editions of 10, from 2009.
  • Zoe Strauss (4): C-prints, 12×16, uneditioned, from 2000-2010.
  • Hank Willis Thomas (2): Lightjet prints, 26×60 and 30×40, uneditioned, from 2008.
  • Mickalene Thomas (4): Mounted c-prints, 30×24 or reverse, in editions of 5, from 2009.
  • Phillip Toledano (3): Digital c-prints, 12×16, in editions of 6, from 2008/2009.
  • Brian Ulrich (5): Pigmented ink and chromogenic prints, 14×11 (or reverse) or 40×30, in editions of 5, from 2006, 2008, and 2009.
  • Michael Wolf (2): Lambda prints, 27×34, in editions of 9, from 2007.

Comments/Context: A generation ago, the support community that a photographer built around him or herself was largely made up of other local photographers and artists, the people who had attended the same art schools or summer workshops, and perhaps a few long distance friendships with like-minded photographers or curators in other citites. With the advent of the Internet and social networking tools, emerging photographers from around the world can now interact with each other much more easily; photographers working to secure their first shows and gallery relationships all have websites displaying their work, and many are active bloggers/writers. Communities of international photographers are springing up all over the place, and a sense of collegial inclusiveness and acceptance is the norm.

Via his enthusiastic support of emerging photographers on his blog ARTmostfierce (here), active collector and photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel has become an evangelist and champion for many lesser known photographers. He has curated shows of emerging and established work, collaborated with artists, marketed limited edition prints, and used his bully pulpit to advocate for causes he cares about, all with a relentless energy and positivity that is contagious. He is an example of a collector who has deeply engaged with the contemporary photography community, and along the way, has transformed himself into something quite a bit more than an anonymous acquirer of pictures.

From a collector’s perspective, this show is really a sampler of early career photographers that are “on the bubble”; some have recently settled into solid gallery representation, while others are still looking for that elusive first partnership. Much of the work on display will be familiar to those that travel in emerging photography circles (most of it still relatively inexpensive); many of the same names often appear in group shows both in galleries and online, and several are prominent in the active shaping of the virtual photography community. Natal-San Miguel has built this exhibit by pairing works by sets of photographers, creating juxtapositions, echoes and opposites of style, subject matter, and mood.

If there is a common theme to this diverse collection of work, I think it is a rejection of the cool conceptualism and global scale of the Dusseldorf school in favor of a more intimate, sensitive brand of photography, much of it emotional portraiture and story telling on an inward or personal level. In these images, the photographers explore vulnerabilities and stereotypes, inadequacies and surface imperfections, hopes and dreams (not all realized). The challenge with this approach is that it’s tricky to find the right balance between compelling human-sized narratives and overly precious self-consciousness; many of these artists are still so early in their careers that they’re still discovering and refining their voices, so what we see here is clearly just the beginning.

Given the wide mix of photographers included in the show, it’s not hugely surprising that the results are a bit uneven. While I won’t go through each of the bodies of work on display, here are three that I found to be the most successful:

  • Phillip Toledano: Toledano’s pictures of his aging father are very nuanced, so much so that it is easy to walk right by and not see them for what they are (which is exactly what I did in my first turn around the gallery). But after a second deeper look, I found these pictures to be the most moving in this exhibit (by a pretty wide margin). The washing of his father’s hair and the twilight view of the sunlight over the city are both strongly evocative images.
  • Amy Elkins: I first saw Amy Elkins’ Wallflower series of male portraits against colorful flowered wallpapers in the project room at Yancey Richardson a year or so ago, and as the months have passed and I have encountered them again in other contexts, they are growing on me. Even though we are not portrait collectors, I am liking the mixture of feminity and masculinity they explore more and more, as well as the subtle openness and vulnerability she has deftly captured.
  • Cara Phillips: Using ultraviolet light, Phillips has made penetrating head shot portraits that reveal the skin imperfections that lie beneath the surface of her subjects’ faces. While these images are somewhat reminiscent of Chuck Close’s daguerreotypes (that often highlight all kinds of bodily flaws and blemishes), I found these portraits striking and memorable. I’d enjoy seeing one hung next to a 1980s colored background portrait by Thomas Ruff.

Curatorially, I think the show would have benefitted from a tighter edit; there are too many pictures, jammed too close together. I think the same ideas could have been brought forth with much more clarity had the pairings been limited to two pictures each; the images would have had more room to breathe and the juxtapositions would have been sharper. My favorites list would also normally have included both Mickalene Thomas and Brian Ulrich, but the specific images chosen for this show seemed weaker than others I carry around in my head from prior viewings. So while I like the spirit of warm inclusiveness that this show embodies, I think a heavier editing hand might have cut away some distracting flabbiness that wouldn’t have been missed.

Overall, this show provides a helpful snapshot of a group of increasingly visible photographers who are working hard to establish themselves (and their point of view) more fully. There’s a nugget of something new going on in all of this work; how much of it will evolve into something even more powerful and lasting still very much remains to be seen.

Collector’s POV: The photographers included in this show are a mix of represented and unrepresented artists, with little or no secondary market history. In the list below, I have included the prices of the works on display, as well as any gallery representation that I could discern (if I have missed any, please add them in the comments). As I mentioned above, the printed price list was somewhat unreliable as a source of information, so recheck the data with the gallery as appropriate:

  • Jen Davis: $2100 or $2500 each. Represented by Lee Marks Fine Art (here).
  • Amy Elkins: $1200 or $1500, based on size. Represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery (here).
  • Elizabeth Fleming: $450 each.
  • Kris Graves: $800 each.
  • Molly Landreth: $400 each.
  • Alex Leme: $400 or $600, based on size.
  • Gina LeVay: $1200 each.
  • Ruben Natal-San Miguel: $500 or $1000, based on size.
  • Eric Ogden: $800, $1500, or $3000.
  • Cara Phillips: $2600 each.
  • Matthew Pillsbury: $1800 or $2200. Represented by Bonni Benrubi Gallery (here).
  • Nadine Rovner: $1200 each.
  • Zoe Strauss: $750 each. Represented by Bruce Silverstein Gallery (here).
  • Hank Willis Thomas: $6500 each. Represented by Jack Shainman Gallery (here).
  • Mickalene Thomas: $6500 each. Represented by Lehman Maupin Gallery (here).
  • Phillip Toledano: $1700 each.
  • Brian Ulrich: $900 or $4000, based on size. Represented by Julie Saul Gallery (here).
  • Michael Wolf: $5000 each. Represented by Bruce Silverstein Gallery (here) and Robert Koch Gallery (here).

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

Each of the photographers in the show has an artist website and/or blog. These sites are linked below:

  • Jen Davis (here)
  • Amy Elkins (here)
  • Elizabeth Fleming (here)
  • Kris Graves (here)
  • Molly Landreth (here)
  • Alex Leme (here)
  • Gina LeVay (here)
  • Ruben Natal-San Miguel (here)
  • Eric Ogden (here)
  • Cara Phillips (here)
  • Matthew Pillsbury (here)
  • Nadine Rovner (here)
  • Zoe Strauss (here)
  • Hank Willis Thomas (here)
  • Mickalene Thomas (here)
  • Phillip Toledano (here)
  • Brian Ulrich (here)
  • Michael Wolf (here)

Through March 8th

Hous Projects
31 Howard Street
New York, NY 10013

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Read more about: Amy Elkins, Brian Ulrich, Cara Phillips, Mickalene Thomas, Phillip Toledano, Hous Projects


  1. ruben /

    Thank you for reviewing the show. VERSUS was curated put together only in 3 weeks so yes, there is room from improvement and due to the constant changing of galleries providing the work to us it was rather difficult to do a tigher edit. What I find interesting is that this review does not address the show main theme which it is the work of an artists VS the other.As for too many pictures, I intent to break that boring mold of putting one photo after the other five feet away from each other lined up on the wall. As an art collector , I like to display the work in a more intimate matter, not the traditional and predictable way that galleries do.

    Yes, Phil Toledano work is great but, so it is in contrast and comparison with Elizabeth Fleming work of raising a child.

    Again Thank you for the review and it is unfortunate that when you visited the gallery some pieces were borrowed for the weekend to be part of PhotoLA. Maybe if you are interested, I will be more than happy to give you a tour of the show. Also some of the things mentioned here are valid points and will be corrected and addressed. Please feel free to contact me directly if you will like to tour the show again.Thank you so much!

  2. Anonymous /

    Anyone who has ever met Ruben can attest to his enthusiasm for photography, and for this he should be commended.

    But a good blog does NOT a good show make. “Too many pictures, jammed too close together.” Smells like the internet.

    This show is a disaster. Never mind the three-week preparation period, the checklist full of typos, and the missing photographs.

    But do pay attention: 63 photographs from 18 different artists. Works chosen based almost entirely upon online viewings. Images hung adjacent to one another based on surface-level, not to mention crude associations.

    Oh look, two photographs of women peering out a window, by two different photographers, next to each other on the wall! How clever.

    Oh look, photographs of people with ultraviolet light (their skin thus appearing to be black) next to photographs of…black people! Racy.

    It's a shame that today's emerging photographers are so desperate for exposure that they are willing to show anywhere, anytime, with anyone, and a greater shame for such a huge group of people to so blindly accept the idea of a blogger as curator.

  3. ruben /

    If you are really somebody with a valid opinion,Please state your name and credential if any because, as it is right now your statements are coming across rather uneducated and ignorant. Hiding under an anonymous alias has to say a lot about a person . it is the work of a real coward. At least some of us try to help other and not denigrate or belittle the ones who try. Thanks for such unkind and rather bitter remarks.

    If you really have the time to be so vindictive and negative I can just image the kind of art you collect or ever wish to own. Obviously you do not have the sensibilty, sophistication to comprehend the show Pitty!
    I dare you to face me and will be more than happy to explain the show to you.How about that?
    Your statements provide a diservice to all the artists involved in the show…think about that.

  4. dlkcollection /

    Regular readers here will know that we don't police the comments with too heavy a hand, and that unlike many sites, we allow anonymous comments. The reason for this is that I think we have built a community where thoughtful commentary is the norm, and many collectors and folks who work in the business require anonymity to particpate actively. We're all adults, and the expectation is that we will act as such.

    From the thread above, it is clear that the curator of this show feels that the comments above have crossed the line from normal and valid criticism into vindictive drive by flaming. My opinion on this matter is that while there are criticisms voiced in the comments that deserve some thought and consideration, they have delivered in such a way that the spirit of constructiveness seems to have been diminished; as such, the strength of the underlying ideas (and the likelihood that they will be taken seriously by the curator) has been compromised by an approach that is a little too flippant and snarky.

    For the sake of the ongoing discussion of the show itself, I have decided to leave both the original comments and the curator's reply, but please, in the future, if readers feel the need to meticulously dismantle an artist or curator, please try to do it with grace, humility and good intentions; it's far easier to comment from the sidelines than to actually create and display the photography that really moves us. We're here to think critically about photography, ask hard questions and encourage excellence, and I'd like to believe this can routinely be done in a positive, professional and supportive manner. Thanks!

  5. ruben /

    Thank you for the moderator approach but, I have no tolerance neither most of the blogging community for such behavior . In the future it may be best to leave me and my good intentions out of this blog entirely if this type of behavior will be tolerated .

    I do not want my good intentions associated at all with this type of poor display of manners, class and education. Thank you!

    Here is a write up from Fraction Magazine and Light Work. People who matter most!
    Mary Goodwin
    Associate Director
    Light Work

    January 7-March 8, 2010
    hous projects
    31 Howard Street, NYC

    The exhibition versus should be on your short list of shows to visit in New York
    City between now and March 8. Curator/collector/artist/blogger Ruben Natal
    san-Miguel has assembled an eye-popping array of images by some of contemporary
    photography’s most intriguing artists. The list of 18 participating
    photographers is indeed impressive, including some well-known names, such as Zoe
    Strauss, Michael Wolf, Brian Ulrich, Mickalene Thomas, Eric Ogden, and Hank
    Willis Thomas, among others. More interestingly, san-Miguel has paired these
    more high-profile artists with those who may be a little less familiar to you,
    at least for now.

    These pairings, from which the show garners its name, are a simple device that
    accomplishes a lot with elegant economy. In most cases, such as putting
    Mickalene Thomas’s work together with Nadine Rovner’s, the pairings amplify
    similarities in theme and approach, in this case, a retro seventies feel
    concerned with sleekness, glamour, and its impact on identity and narrative.
    When curator san-Miguel poses the question, “If it wasn’t Penelope Cruz peeking
    through the window, if it was Jane Doe, would the scene be as powerful, lush,
    and tantalizing?” about Ogden’s work, placing Jen Davis’s images next to Ogden’s
    answers with a resounding “Yes!” Sometimes the juxtapositions presented in
    versus are so refined that you may have to squint to tell where one
    photographer’s work stops and another’s begin, such as with Phil Toledano vs.
    Elizabeth Fleming.

    versus takes on additional complexity when work by “unpaired” photographers
    start to speak to each other from across the room. This synergy happens best
    when the deserted, signless storefront in Brian Ulrich’s Toys-R-Us reverberates
    with the erased-logo mints tin in Hank Willis Thomas’s Now That’s Funny; these
    connections between unpaired works form the connective tissue that holds the
    whole exhibition together as a survey.

    Ultimately, versus is an exhibition about relationships both on the walls and
    beyond them. The backstory of how the show was conceived, put together, and
    promoted provides a great case in point. That versus was conceived of,
    organized, and then promoted on Andy Adam’s Flak Photo website in a matter of
    weeks is a testament to the strength of the connections among the many players.
    The quality and richness of versus is proof that hous projects and san-Miguel
    really know how to put on a show.

    Those who can’t visit versus in person can get a flavor of what it has to offer
    at the hous projects website.

    We are also listed in The New Yorker this week as well.
    Paris Photo, Paris Review, the Village Voice will be reviewing the show as well
    Oh wait here is another one:

    Anonymous MAN UP and face me!

  6. Anonymous /

    “I think the crucial difference is that curating should really imply more than a process of selection. Ideally it should not only be based on in-depth research into a particular area, but it should also attempt to contribute new ideas that shed light on some unseen aspect or that allow us to see things in a new context. When I think of the best curated photography shows over the past decade, they were all based on several years of painstaking research and all attempted to say something new about their subject.” – Marc Feustel

    Via Conscientious:

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