Friday, February 25, 2011

What Artists Give Us

Sze Tsung Leong. Alameda, México DF, 2009

First, please excuse the current lapse in posts. I was away on the west coast - about which more to come as soon as I get a chance.

Just before I left, however, I went to see the just opened show "Cities" by Sze Tsung Leong (at Yossi Milo) and was much taken by the craft and consistency of vision of this relatively new to the scene photographer. Leong - as you will see from his website produces vast serial bodies of landscape work sticking to a fairly rigid compositional format for each series. This in itself is nothing new, but Leong travels so far and to so many places that his encyclopedic breadth crossed with his pictorial skill combine to take us somewhere new.

A sure sign of this is that when I looked out of my hotel window in Los Angeles, I felt I was seeing a Leong picture! And as I thought about this, I realized that one of the things artists give us is a way of defining and ordering what we see. A sea horizon can be a Meyerowitz or a Sugimoto. A random gesture in a park can be a Winogrand. A tackily colored interior can be an Eggleston. And rather than taking away from the pleasure of seeing these things, for those of us who are not artists I think it actually adds pleasure. Recognizing the association is in itself a creative gesture. Thus the realization that the scene outside my window (below) was like a Leong was both a gift from the artist and a gift from and to myself.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weekend Video

This week I had the pleasure of seeing the Academy Award nominated documentary "Wasteland" and meeting its director Lucy Walker. The film follows the Brazilian photographer Vik Muniz as he sets out to create a body of work rendering portraits of the garbage pickers of Rio's Jardim Gramacho - the largest landfill in the world - out of the garbage they sift through every day. The idea was that all the money Muniz made from the sale of these pictures would be given back to the pickers and their union. However it also turned out to be a shining example of how doing the right thing can bring as much to the giver as the receiver.

For those not familiar with Muniz's work, it is largely comprised of renditions of iconic images done in unusual material like chocolate syrup or paint swatches and then photographed by the artist. You can see a lot on Muniz's own site here.

Following the unusual, dangerous, and daunting project, Walker focuses on a handful of Muniz's truly memorable subjects and by the time the film is over you not only feel you've gotten to know them, but you care deeply about them. Subtextually, the film also addresses the often complicated issue of what makes something a work of art in a refreshingly clear-headed way. It's moving, entertaining, and illuminating. It's playing here and there, but obviously if the film gets an Oscar it will be easier to access.

Whatever happens, don't miss it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Lost (& found!)

An occupational hazard of my profession is that given the number of prints we show, store, etc., - things go missing (although they all eventually show up). It's not like a painting gallery where an artist might drop off a dozen paintings for a show. We literally deal in hundreds of images and prints. Some are consigned, some are owned, others get dropped off and never picked up.

There's a slightly different story regarding the picture above, however. Many years ago, I was browsing in the Museum of Modern Art's bookstore and came across a French book on motion in photography with this Muybridge of a couple dancing on the cover. Muybridge is best known for his studies of animals in motion. (He was the person who proved that a horse's four legs do all leave the ground at once but not as previously assumed in the legs out rocking horse position. After Muybridge set up his cameras to settle a bet between two rich San Franciscans, his pictures revealed that the only time a horse's legs all leave the ground at once are when they are tucked under the body.) But I digress.

Muybridge also photographed the human body in motion, but I found this image particularly pleasing and very romantic. So I set out to try and buy a print. Calls to all the Muybridge specialists proved fruitless. Trips to galleries and art fairs yielded no leads. Then one day about six years ago, I was at Photo L.A. and saw a booth with Muybridges. The booth owner didn't have it but thought he had seen it in another booth. That booth didn't have it but thought he had seen it in another booth. On and on this went until the last possible booth where the dealer dug into a stack of gravures and produced the image!

I brought the print back home and eventually took it to Washington D.C. for my friend David Adamson to scan so I would always have a copy and could in fact sell reproductions if I wanted to. (Being from the late 1800s there are no copyright issues.)

After leaving it there for a few months I forgot about it. I was probably busy opening Danziger Projects. And when I finally inquired about it David thought it had been returned to me. I thought I had misplaced it. Several searches at Danziger Projects and Adamson turned up nothing. I had a horrible half-memory of taking it on the train from D.C. to N.Y.C. and leaving the package on the train.

On my last trip to Adamson a week ago, I asked David if he could at least locate the scan so I could have a copy. And then he thought he might have actually seen the print in a drawer. We opened one drawer after another and again when we got to the last drawer the original print of the dancing couple reappeared! It's now back in the gallery. After what must be a at least a seven or eight year odyssey from first seeing the image in a book, clearly the only solution is to get it framed and hang it on the wall. Things that go into boxes and shelves have a way of hiding themselves!

Hope I haven't bored you with the story. But this post is my valentine to all Year in Pictures readers. Happy Valentine's Day. As I never tire of saying - "Photography is love"!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Matter of Time

There are special moments when the art world comes together to acknowledge the impact and zeitgeist of a particular show and for New Yorkers, that moment is the current Christian Marclay exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery at 534 West 21st Street.

From now until Feb 19, the gallery is showing Marclay's extaordinary 24 hour video piece "The Clock" - a real time assemblage of hundreds (if not thousands) of film clips all dealing in some way with timepieces and time (and myriad other themes, sub-themes, etc.). In other words, if you come into the gallery at 3:04 p.m., the film might be showing a sequence in which, say, Cary Grant will be looking at his watch and it will say 3:04. Ten minutes later, a clip from a german expressionist film of the 30s might have a clock in the background where the time will be 3:14. It might be better explained in the video below.

If you have any opportunity to see this piece, I highly recommend it. You can, of course, dip in and out as you wish. The gallery has an enormous screening room full of very comfortable chairs and couches and the most surprising thing is how entertaining and gripping the work is. Most significantly, this weekend and next (the last two weekends of the show) the gallery will be open from Friday until Sunday 10 a.m. in order to allow the hardiest souls to watch the entire 24 hour cycle.

You can read some background here. And for those outside of New York, it's probably only a matter of time (no pun intended) until "The Clock" comes to a museum near you.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dean Fidelman

One of the many qualities of Bruce Weber is his generosity towards other photographers. As an enthusiast, collector, and publisher, Weber has brought a number of lesser known photographers to light, mostly through his self-published magazine "All-American" - now in its 10th volume.

In the most recent issue of "All-American" Weber has included a portfolio of photographs by Dean Fidelman which combine the schools of climbing photographs and the nude in a skilled and original way. I particularly like how unsalacious these pictures are. They're more about athleticism and have a kind of hippy/back to nature vibe linking them to the "Stone Master" photographers of the 70s.

My friend Tom Adler, another great discoverer of photographers, recently put together a terrific book on the Stone Masters which I somehow missed blogging about, but you can get it here.

Below, a few more pictures by Fidelman:

A View from Above

We're all a little sick of the snow right now, yes? But to see exactly what a phenomenon the storms over the United States have been, this amazing satellite view courtesy NASA. It should certainly please Andreas Gursky! Click here if this reference needs further explanation.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kenneth O'Halloran

Another picture which stopped me in my tracks. This photograph from Kenneth O' Halloran's "Fair Trade" series (on Irish Fairs) is a stunner! I love its Heironymous Boschian composition, its dabs of color, and the way your eye is pulled back into the ever denser concentration of horses and figures at the back of the frame.

It's atypical of the rest of the series' Sanderesque portraits, but those are pretty strong too as you'll see below.

I'm beginning to feel that the Sander to Sartorialist composed portrait is becoming almost too prevalent these days, but what's interesting is how in the hands of someone with a distinctive vision, it still has some kick. But I'd love to see O'Halloran come up with more pictures like the top one.