Monday, March 31, 2008
I can safely predict that the hippest place to be in New York this week (if not this entire spring) will be the Team Gallery opening of new work by 30 year old photographer Ryan McGinley. The show, called "I Know Where the Summer Goes", runs from the opening on the 3rd of April through the 3rd of May. Team Gallery is located at 83 Grand Street between Wooster and Greene.
The title of this exhibition, taken from a song by Belle & Sebastian, is more than just a piece of poetic musing. McGinley does, in fact, know where his summers go. In the summer of 2007, as has been his recent practice, he travelled across the United States with sixteen models and three assistants, shooting 4,000 rolls of film. From the resulting 150,000 photographs, he narrowed down the work to some fifty images to be shown at the gallery.
The inspiration for the project were amateur photographs culled from nudist magazines of the 60s and early 70s. McGinley would sit with his models and look through pictures, discussing the mood he was hoping to capture that day. A specific itinerary was chosen to bring his troop through a range of photogenic landscapes and carefully planned activities. The artificial constructedness of the project allowed for situations in which the models could both perform and be caught off guard. The resulting pictures of young men and women playing in the great outdoors are both innocent and erotic, casual yet calculated.
At one point in McGinley's meteoric career, the question many people had was whether he was a Nan Goldin wannabe or actually had something original to say - an interesting question in the light of yesterday's post. He seems to have found his place in the great outdoors bringing a much needed breath of fresh air (no pun intended) to the increasingly stultified genre of constructed photography. His equal interest (photographically speaking) in both men and women is also a surprisingly rare and refreshing occurrence.
A couple of weeks ago, I was blogging about the photographer Tim Davis and mentioned in passing his series of photographs of paintings in which the play of light on the varnish gives the original work new photographic meaning. Then yesterday I went to the Met to hear Scott Schuman speak on a panel about fashion and blogging. With a few minutes to spare I took a quick spin around the second floor and came across one of my favorite paintings that had unexpectedly been relocated. I pulled out my camera and took a picture not realizing that the flash was on (a big no-no as the Met guard was quick to tell me). However, in the instant I saw on the viewfinder what I had captured, I realized I had made a Tim Davis!
Does this picture have any validity? Based on a position I've taken many times, the answer is absolutely and unequivocally no. Which is frustrating - because as objectively as I can judge it I think it's a pretty good picture, but without context, history, background, etc., it has little meaning. Much of its meaning, in fact, comes from Davis's prior insight and work.
I recently saw a photographer as a favor to a friend and he came in to the gallery, young, confident, and with a totally mediocre portfolio. I made an effort to be as polite as possible. At the end of his presentation he pulled out a little envelope and with a flourish showed me a group of snapshots of sky, horizon, water. At this point I thought it would be doing him a favor to point out that this notion (the appreciation of the ever changing but always formal abstraction of horizons) had been ably expressed by Joel Meyerowitz and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Unless he had some radical new insight into how to re-imagine this kind of picture he was unlikely to end up with a one person show in New York. He looked at me incredulously and as though explaining it to some idiot said "But this is The Ganges."!
(By the way, my picture is on top and Davis's below.)
Sunday, March 30, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, I was blogging about the photographer Tim Davis and mentioned in passing his series of photographs of paintings in museums in which the play of light gives the work new meaning as well as a new photographic context. Yesterday I was at the Met to hear Scott Schuman speak on a panel about fashion and blogging and with a few minutes to spare I took a quick spin around the second floor. Coming across one of my favorite paintings that had unexpectedly been relocated, I pulled out my camera and took a picture not realizing that the flash was on - a big no-no as the Met guard was quick to tell me. But in the instant I saw on the viewfinder what I had captured, I realized that I had made a Tim Davis.
Does this picture have any validity? Theoretically, and based on a position I've taken many times, I firmly believe the answer is no. As objectively as I can judge it, though, I actually think it's a pretty good picture, but without context it has little meaning. And what gives it at least some of its meaning is Tim's prior insight and work.
The attribution of whose picture is whose will be posted tomorrow.
Friday, March 28, 2008
The catchiest song of the moment, Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body”, has a video so excruciatingly bad there was no option but to resort to the Warholian tribute videos that blossom on You Tube like a thousand flowers! And it would be fun to get some reader response with a vote for best rendition.
The lyrics are not always easy to decipher but as you can see from the brief transcription below, they’re about as up to date as they can be.
If there's a camera up in here
Then it's gonna leave with me
When I do (I do)
If there's a camera up in here
Then I'd best not catch this flick
On YouTube (YouTube)
'Cause if you run your mouth and brag
About this secret rendezvous
I will hunt you down.
A final warning - if you listen to all the versions posted, it's impossible to walk around without the song on perma-loop in the back of your head.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I was browsing Artnet and came across these two pictures which I presumed were Julius Shulman photographs. I was trying to figure out where they were showing until I realized it wasn’t the pictures being sold, but the actual houses!
While interest in Ezra Stoller and Shulman’s photographs (the two great photographers of modernist architecture) continues to grow, the boom market in 20th-century design has now brought entire modernist houses to the auction block! The top photograph is Richard Neutra’s 3,200-square-foot Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, a glass, steel and stone structure designed by Neutra in 1949 as a desert getaway for Philadelphia department-store magnate Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. (who was also the client for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater a decade earlier). The house is estimated to sell for $15 million-$25 million, and is included in Christie’s big evening sale of postwar and contemporary art on May 13, 2008. The home was purchased for $1.9 million in 1993 by Brent and Beth Edwards Harris, who spent another $5 million on a five-year-long restoration. The couple is divorcing.
The second picture is Louis Kahn’s Esherick House in Philadelphia, which is being sold by the Wright auction house in Chicago at its design sale on May 18, 2008. The two-story, 2,500-square-foot, one-bedroom structure, located in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia, carries a pre-sale estimate of $2 million-$3 million. The house is being sold by Dr. and Mrs. Robert Gallagher, who bought it in 1981. For the sale, Wright has published a deluxe catalogue with photographs by Todd Eberle.
Happy house hunting!
Monday, March 24, 2008
Back from Costa Rica – a remarkably beautiful country, safe and friendly. As it was a family vacation our emphasis was on beaches, hiking, and animal spotting, but one of the interesting sidebars of this kind of holiday is observing your fellow travelers. At one hotel in particular (the otherwise exemplary Hotel Arenas Del Mar) the dining room was filled with so many couples who never spoke to each other or barely made eye contact I felt I had fallen into some kind of alternate Martin Parr universe. (Oddly enough the next hotel, the famous eco-lodge, Lapa Rios, was exactly the opposite with affectionate couples and animated families.) But I couldn’t stop thinking about Parr’s wry photographs of non-communicating couples and as soon as I hit the first wireless hotspot I went straight to Magnum’s website and pulled up these pictures from Parr’s 1993 catalog “Bored Couples”.
Parr is truly in a league of his own as a colorist, photojournalist, humorist, and social observer. When he first joined Magnum, the old guard predicted the beginning of the end, but Parr has pulled the organization kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a realization that the insignificant moment has its own importance and that the fine art and photojournalistic ends of the spectrum don’t have to be in opposition.
“Bored Couples” is one of about 40 books or catalogs Parr has published on subjects ranging from bad weather and British food to sleeping Japanese commuters and sunburned tourists. Another of Parr’s memorable projects consisted of being photographed in vernacular style by a global cross section of local small-time studio photographers. It’s the least vain self-portrait project of all times! But back to bored couples –it’s Parr’s particular genius to realize that as truly terrible as many of the things are that his Magnum colleagues photograph, the tiny tortures of humdrum life, such as sitting at a table with nothing to say to the person you share your life with, are not inconsiderable. Fortunately this was not the case with our Costa Rican holiday!
Friday, March 14, 2008
Photograph by William Eggleston. Courtesy Wiliam Eggleston Trust & Cheim and Read.
This week I'm off to Costa Rica for a vacation with my family, so I won't be posting for a week or so. In addition to the rain forest and a country that's totally new to me, I'm looking forward to catching up with some DVD's I've had out from Netflix since the summer and the book "Pictures at a Revolution. Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood" by Mark Harris, which has had some pretty fabulous reviews.
Talk to you soon...
Thursday, March 13, 2008
One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, "Shakespeare in Love":
The plague has closed down the theaters and Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare’s producer, is being threatened (as he repeatedly is) by the investor he has found to bankroll his productions.
HENSLOWE (with one of Fennyman’s goons holding a knife to his throat): Allow me to explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
FENNYMAN: So what do we do?
HENSLOWE: Nothing. Strangely enough it all turns out well.
HENSLOWE: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
GOON: Shall I kill him Mr. Fennyman?
As Henslowe readies himself for the next torture, the town crier appears.
TOWN CRIER: The theaters are re-opened by order of the master of the revels. The theaters are re-opened.
I offer this scene as the closest parallel I have found to the gallery business. Strangely enough it always seems to turn out well!
I recently had to postpone a show in order to accommodate the publication of a book. This left me with a hole in my schedule and nothing I liked to fill it with. I knew, however, that something always happens.
In this case things were about as tight as they could be and I was beginning to consider the option of simply extending the show I have up now when walking along Madison Avenue last week I ran into the dealer Keith de Lellis.
I was just thinking about calling you.
I have some photographs I thought might interest you for a show. They’re a group of vintage prints by Rudy Burckhardt of pictures he took for Leo Castelli of Jasper Johns paintings.
How many are there?
When can I see them?
And this is the story behind my next show “Jasper Johns – Black and White. Photograhs by Rudy Burckhardt.” Opening April 12.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I’ve been going through boxes of photographs trying to organize my collection and just came across this print (above) - the second print I ever bought. (The first was Joel Meyerowitz’s “Dairyland”.)
I remember what appealed to me at the time - not just the kinetic motion, but the potential motion that lay ready to spring to life. The hoop about to be rolled, the cat about to pounce, the dog who could at any second start chasing a chicken. It’s a rarely seen image, especially compared to Giacomelli’s more famous pictures of seminary students playing in the snow, or the image below that appears to be snow but is actually a bleached out courtyard, but it has passed the test of time with flying colors.
At one time Mario Giacomelli was close in stature to Henri Cartier-Bresson, but some unwise deals and an over-saturation of the market created a bad case of over-exposure. He died in 2000 before the photography world had caught back up with him.
Born in 1925 in Senigallia, Giacomelli was a self-taught photographer inspired by the neo-realist films of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. His subjects ranged from the landscape of southern Italy and life in the rural villages, to hallucinatory photographs of the elderly (shot in a nursing home where his mother worked) and pilgrimages to Lourdes. He made aerial shots of bathers 40 years before Richard Misrach and rented tractors to carve lines out of the hills anticipating the earthworks of the 1970s and 80s.
He said about his photography, “I try to photograph thoughts”. But what he really photographed were dreams.
Last Friday my daughter had her 13th birthday party and at her request we brought a Polaroid camera. That Polaroid is going to discontinue making film has been much in the news lately, although less noticed is the fact that the company actually stopped making the cameras a year ago. It all seems to signify an end of an era as emotively as the passing of the Walkman or brick size mobile phones, but what I noticed in my brief moment as a tween party paparazzo, was how much the Polaroid camera specifically contributes to the event.
One of the things I’ve learned from working with The Sartorialist is how important the approach is. Make the right approach with your camera in front of you and you’re much more likely to get a good picture than if you suddenly whip it out. Bring out a Polaroid camera and everyone’s ready for fun! (And you're no longer the intruding parent, you're now just support staff.)
The other thing I noticed as I was pretty much shooting in the dark (you can’t see much through a viewfinder in dance light conditions) was how beautiful the randomness of the hastily grabbed moment is. It was the revelation of street photography that the chaos of everyday life was just as arresting as the compositional order of the decisive moment, but as always - getting to experience the progression of art historical aesthetic development through your own family snaps is always an unexpected pleasure!
After a quick burst of heavy use, the Polaroid gave up and so I switched to a digital, but I love the composition of the figures
(below) and the way the picture divides itself into the two groups.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
I was listening to Public Radio as I was driving to work and Frank Sinatra came on. As we don't hear a lot of Frank these days, this new cover version of "New York, New York" by Cat Power from her latest album, Jukebox, was doubly welcome. The clip is from a recent appearance on the BBC2's "Later with Jools Holland" - a show the famously stage shy singer has been appearing on regularly and with an unusual degree of comfort over the years.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
The most embarrassing genre of photography I can think of is pictures of comedians - humor and photography being strange and usually awkward bedfellows. So I always appreciate a series of photographs that seem genuinely funny. Such are Tim Davis’s new pictures - “My Audience” – in which he records the audience (or lack of) that come to hear him at various talks and book signings.
Davis has had an interesting career to date. Known initially for his pictures of paintings in which the way light fell on the canvas brought new meaning and perspective to usually well-known museum pieces, Davis then went on to become more of a social commentator
of modern American life. He’s clearly a colorist, but with a deadpan view of the world. His big project prior to the audience series was a book “My Life in Politics” which looked at a conflicted America at the turn of the millennium. (One of my favorite pictures was the interior of a Mexican restaurant with an inspirational mural of Martin Luther King above which were the words: “One People, One Nation, One Taco, One Destiny”.
But back to “My Audience” which is both situational and self-deprecating. Not only do the empty chairs often outnumber the full, but Davis manages to capture what seem to be pretty true to life expressions for anyone who’s been in a similar situation. And the series only gets funnier as it moves along. It will be interesting too see what’s next for Davis, but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he finds himself becoming an American Martin Parr.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
On my morning dog walk, I rounded the corner of 90th and 5th to find this vibrant new sign advertising the upcoming show at the Cooper Hewitt. Having decorated my room as a teenager with these kind of posters, I’m a sucker for pyschedelia, but what really struck me about the display was the word “exuberant’ in the exhibition title. In fact it stopped me in my tracks because it’s not only a word that’s rarely used these days, but a quality that seems less and less evident in art and life today. And it's missed.
One block later as I was passing the Guggenheim Museum, a Spanish tourist was energetically launching herself in balletic leaps in front of the building making me wonder if an exuberance epidemic had broken out. Then a few steps later I looked up to find this giant hanging of a detail of Ernst Kirchner’s “Dancers” promoting the Guggenheim’s “Berlin to New York” show.
If this weren’t enough, my last stop of the morning was at Keith DeLellis’s new gallery on Madison Avenue where I was struck by this underwater portrait which turned out to be an Art Kane of Sonny and Cher from the early 70s.
So the question I was left with was: is exuberance all around and I was just missing it, or did I momentarily fall into some Bermuda Triangle of exuberance? (FYI – a quick journey around Chelsea in the afternoon yielded no exuberance sightings.)