Friday, July 21, 2017

Good Pictures From Brendan Mark

Deborah Mesa-Pelly, Carpet Grotto @ Honey Ramka

A pretty great exhibition of shag carpets with fake rocks on them that are projecting videos of real rocks. The carpet brought back childhood memories from the 80s of lying on a shag rug to watch TV, leading me to see the fake rocks as little children-rocks watching rock-TV. With the rocks combined with the bursts of fluorescent color on the shag carpeting and in the videos, the entire show suggests a tribute to HBO’s 80’s psychedelic kids’ show, Fragile Rock. As simplistic as a read as this might be, it made sense out of a rather cryptic but visually exciting show. 

Already Down
Honey Ramka (56 Bogart St., Btw. Harrison Pl. & Grattan St., Brooklyn)

Matthew Mahler, UP & DOWN @ Sardine

Man, I Loved the Stacy Fisher show at Sardine, followed up by Matthew Mahler’s paintings based on the soles of Air Jordan 7s. That is a pretty great run of shows. I’ve been a fan of Mahler’s paintings for some time. I first knew his work as tie-dyed canvases with text, which peaked with a series of tie-dyed paintings with tassels floating off them, named after the unhinged dayglow 90’s wrestler The Ultimate Warrior. There was a fearlessness in taking on the garishness and repurposed hipsterness of tie-dye that I loved. Mahler’s skill at taking on loaded and garish subject matter without becoming maudlin was endlessly impressive. I loved that he seemed willing to embrace his personal interests and fold them into his art, creating a layer of meaning to his abstract paintings, which made his work stand out in the otherwise crowded Bushwick scrum of abstract painters. 

In his new Air Jordan 7s paintings, there is something both utterly enticing and repellent in his soft, slightly muted, almost commercial plastic-like color palate. They function like the other side of the coin of his earlier tie-dyed paintings; instead of the colors being over the top, the new paintings are so neutral in palate that the color becomes almost nonexistent. Yet the paintings are fantastic, and the excitement stems from Mahler so actively courting that line between triumph and failure. The work operates not unlike sneaker culture, does for me where on some primordial lower brain, junior-high level, I very much want cool new sneakers but at the same time, I feel that most new cool sneakers are just a little too garish for me to wear at my age and maintain any kind of dignity. It’s a desire and a simultaneous shame for desiring, which is a wonderfully complex reaction for a series of abstract paintings to elicit. All of which is helped by the paintings being hung on a lovely white metal grid that floats off the wall. The grid makes the paintings seem like they are on the pristine white display racks of a large shoe store.

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Sardine (286 Stanhope St. Ground Floor, Btw. Wyckoff & Irving Aves., Brooklyn)

Lisa Fairstein, Deep Shade @ Baxter St Camera Club of New York

I have liked what I have seen of Lisa Fairstein’s photographs in group shows, so I was excited to finally get a chance to see an entire solo show of her work. In Deep Shade, she has created a solid body of work that feels in keeping with contemporary photography or at least the vein of it that has been showing very attractive images in loosely defined bodies of work organized around a broad poetic or conceptual theme. Which is to say Fairstein is making quality contemporary photographs that look good together. My personal favorite is a rather excellent photograph of a man’s leg basking in the purple light of a sparsely attended dance club. The only issue I have with the work is I am not sure it rises above the photographs others are making in a similar vein. The press release does give a little hook that may make Fairstein’s work more compelling depending on your interest in process. As I understand it, the current body of work is the result of her finding pictures from social media and restaging small parts of those images. It is an interesting way to go about making pictures, and it certainly is taking things up a notch process-wise. I am just not sure the resulting photographs are always as compelling as I would like them to be. Fairstein is good at picking up on the odd unintentional moments from strangers’ snapshots, but they are so well done that the process is lost and the pictures end up looking like the intentional photographs of a lot of contemporary art photographers.

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Baxter St Camera Club of New York (126 Baxter St., Btw. Hester & Canal Sts.)

Mariah Robertson, Chaos Power Center @ 11R

I like Walead Beshty’s large colorful photograms. They are nice to look at, and when he was first doing them, they were a provocative conceptual gesture geared towards the on-again, off-again relationship photography has with the avant-garde. But I am not sure how many attractive looking photograms I need to see. Robertson’s photograms are large and attractive. I have nothing against them, short of their not being as much fun to look at as abstract painting. The stars of the show are a collection of small, dark, alt-process prints of naked men in the corner of the gallery. These pictures of men give the large attractive photograms a reason to exist that is more than decorative. The photograms next to the nudes, take on a vibrant celebratory sexuality, as if they are radiating off the otherwise dark secretive little prints of naked men. I have reached my limit of work that isn’t clearly about something, and the inclusion of the naked men certainly gives a show of photograms a little more meaning.

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11R (195 Chrystie St., Btw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.)

Victoria Sambunaris, Nexus @ Yancey Richardson

Mark Steinmetz, Paul Mpagi Sepuya and now a large Victoria Sambunaris show, man, Yancey Richardson is on fire. This could be the best run of shows they have had since moving to the larger ground floor space. The photographs in the show are a familiar continuation of the work that culminated in Sambunaris’s wonderful Taxonomy of a Landscape, a book which not only included stunningly beautiful large-format landscapes of man’s presence in the natural world but also weird little diversion: a series of stalactite pictures, polaroids of people she has met while out photographing and lots of vernacular maps and detritus she has picked up on her yeoman-esque journey to photograph the US / Mexican security fence, shipping containers, oil pipelines, the edges of suburban development and very attractive landscapes. 

The show consists of what I guess are technically seascapes of giant container ships along with some landscapes in keeping with what Sambunaris has done in the past. If you are a photography fan, it is hard to deny how good a landscape photographer Sambunaris is. Maybe it is the cultural temperature or just a progression in the work, but the new images seem starker, flatter and more even. The light in her best work was often celebratory, especially in the series of pictures from national parks, but the lighting in her new work almost feels as if Sambunaris has been beaten down and has succumbed to the unrelenting nature of her subject matter. The new sparseness creates an austerity that calls attention to and demands confrontation with the subject matter, be it train tracks or large container ships. The past work posed a conflict not unlike Robert Adams’s work, where the subject matter asked to be critiqued, but the images were so wonderful it was hard not to feel on some level that the photographer really enjoyed how the light hit new suburban developments even when the subdivisions were consuming the western landscape. But in Sambunaris new work, the formal minimalism of the pictures, the neutral light and the murky waters all speak to a world that has gone a miss.

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Yancey Richardson (525 W 22nd St., Btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)

Richard Misrach / Guillermo Galindo, Border Cantos @ Pace / MacGill Gallery

The first time I saw Misrach’s pictures of people floating in water, I thought he was ripping off the surfer pictures of Los Angeles-based photographer Mark Wyse. At the time, the word around the water cooler was that Wyse had printed at a lab Misrach used, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. My first thought when I walked into Border Cantos was that he had ripped off Victoria Sambunaris’s work, which is showing literally showing blocks away at Yancey Richardson. I am sure it is all coincidence, and he is either unaware of her earlier work or borrowing from it as all artists tend to do. But I still had a hard time walking through the show without thinking of Sambunaris’s earlier photographs. Fortunately for Misrach. his work holds up well. I’d even argue this is the best work he has done in some time. There are two pictures of mist, one rolling over a field of vegetables and one draping the border fence that are chilling. They suggest that the politics of these places are swallowing them up. Match them with the makeshift Xs with clothes on them in front of riverbeds, and you have some mysterious and jarring photographs that suggest in a very visceral way that something bad has happened in these places. The feeling is all but confirmed with a picture of a shooting range and its decimated targets. This is powerful work, maybe a little derivative of Sambunaris and maybe printed a little too dark and green, but strong pictures all the same. Now the work is paired with sculptures of found objects from the area that at times are turned into musical instruments. I wasn’t a fan of the sculptures. 

Karen Lederer, Hands On @ Field Projects

I am a photographer, I mostly write about photography and I do my best to understand other mediums. Painting is the medium I have the most difficulty wrapping my head around. I like abstract paintings as much as the next art goer, but on some level I have a hard time placing a critical value on abstract paintings outside of my enjoyment of color palate and sometimes graphic design. Of course, there is visual innovation or emotional content that can bleed through in abstract paintings, but I often worry I am just staring too hard at an often decorative medium. So, I am in complete support of the current rise of figurative painting, until of course I get tired of it and pine for the poetic simplicity of abstraction. 

I love how Karen Lederer’s bright color palate that oscillates between solid punchy colors next and vibrant almost-psychedelic gradations. The resulting images and upbeat colors speak to an almost idealized life of a city dweller, like seeing the world through the eyes of an enthusiastic lover of Nora Ephron movies. In Hands On, you get the collision of bottled water, Spanish soda, bodega coffee, fresh fruit with the inescapable topic of the Trump election. These things show up in the paintings in what I imagine to be the artist making bright almost whimsical anti-Trump protest posters. The paintings and subject matter speak lovingly not only to painting and creating something new and wonderful in the world, but also to the specific world the artist appears to be inhabiting, which appears, to those of us living in the more faded ends of Brooklyn, to be a very enviable, vibrant world that I can only imagine existing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

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Field Projects (526 W 26th St., Btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)

Roei Greenberg, Brian McClave and Sergio Purtell, Location, Location, Location @The Ildiko Butler Gallery at Fordham University

Recently I was showing my work to friend, and after going through a bunch of large format pictures I had done, we started looking at some of my recent hand held digital photographs. My friend remarked that in the new work I hadn’t been so concerned with the formal aspects of framing my images. It stuck with me, that on some level, I don’t know what she is talking about. I know the history of photographs, but my understanding of the formal history of painting techniques is rather rudimentary. This all happened right before seeing Location, Location, Location, and what struck me about the show is what a nice progression from right to left, of examples of the formal aspects of photographing landscapes. First, Roei Greenberg, who makes very still, clean, exacting color photographs of Israel. Each image has a centered subject matter, and very little of importance falls off the edge of the frame. The light is bright but neutral, creating a world where the subject matter seems more seen than created, resulting in an objective look at a land that rarely exist in such neutrality. Then Sergio Purtell, with his dense, angular, formal high wire acts of Brooklyn, where he layers information on top of information, using foregrounds with useful information that compete with compelling stuff in the background. Purtell makes work that feels created in the artist’s eye, and the resulting images are a formal representation of dense complicated urban living. Finally, Brian McGlave’s black and white polaroids of his childhood home. Here remnants of the polaroid and the dark prints create a completely subjective view of place as seen not only through McGlave’s camera but also through his memory of place. The show collapses the three version of space into a loop of objective to subjective versions of the world. It is fitting that the show is co-curated by two long time photographic educators, Joseph Lawton and Stephan Apicella-Hitchcock.

Through October 2nd
The Ildiko Butler Gallery (113 W 60th St., Btw. Columbus & Amsterdam Aves.)

Good Pictures From Alex Grabiec

Alex Grabiec

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Good Pictures From McNair Evans