Friday, March 16, 2012

Chelsea Gallery Notes: Masao Yamamoto, Paul Graham, Mark Ruwedel, Jonathan Lasker, Donald Moffett, Tom Burr, Catherine Opie, Melanie Willhide. Gerhard Richter at the Film Forum

I’ve written before about what I think is an unfortunate trend to gratuitously over-produce and up-scale photographs. Masao Yamamoto provides a nice counter-example. His work looks like something picked out among a box of old photos you stumble upon at a flea market – they are precious, unassuming, intimate, and wonderfully composed – obviously the work of a gifted photographer. Faded and worn, with rough edges that suggest they had been held and even treasured by the person who took them, they look like they have been taken 40, 50 or 60 years ago. But that isn’t the case. The images are contemporary, printed in relatively large editions, and “aged” by the photographer himself. Is this a trick, a gimmick, or is it an act of humility of the part of the artist? For me it is the latter.




Masao Yamamoto, Magic Mountain at Yancy Richardson, 535 W 22nd St., 3rd Floor, through March 31, 2012.

Paul Graham’s The Present is street photography, presented in the form of diptychs and triptychs. The exposures are taken in various Manhattan locations, separated by a few seconds between shots. The effect prompts a visual comparison between 2 or 3 moments and underscores how slight changes in camera position and timing can have a significant impact on the content and composition on the image. Unlike conventional street photography, Graham’s approach favors potentiality over linearity and multiplicity over singularity. There is an unexpected theatrical element in this work, not unlike the street photographs of Phillip Lorca diCorcia. Graham achieves this effect through his control of the camera’s plane of focus: in each grouping, disparate elements are recorded in sharp relief against a softer ground, shifting what is identified as “subject” from frame to frame. I enjoyed the experience of looking at the images, going back and forth between them and noticing how what I paid attention to in each image varied.



Paul Graham, The Present, at Pace Gallery, 545 W 22nd St., through April 21, 2012.

With a nod to both Robert Adams and the Bechers, Mark Ruwedel catalogs the remains of abandoned houses, mostly outside of Los Angeles, and their associated debris. The silver gelatin photos are printed in nuanced shades of gray, offering an elegant counterpoint to the decay of the structures. My favorite was one image of a dark house just lingering on the edge of visibility against an equally dark sky.




Mark Ruwedel, Records, at Yossi Milo Gallery, 245 10th Ave., through April 7, 2012.

Jonathan Lasker, Early Works 1977-1985, at Cheim & Read shows the painter exploring the nature of gesture and the physicality of the painted surface, themes which he would expand upon in his later work. Lasker uses overlapping shapes, variation in edge, and differences in opacity to create compositions in which elements fight to be on top, only to drop below, creating a complex and changing sense of space.



Jonathan Lasker, Early Works 1977-1985, at Cheim & Read, 547 W 25th St., through March 24, 2012.

A lot of contemporary painting is investigating the painting’s object-ness, going beyond paint applied to surface towards creating painting/sculpture hybrids. Yesterday, I saw two opposite approaches. Donald Moffett creates sculptures upon which he hangs his paintings. The paintings themselves are essentially flat (not literally though, as the surfaces resemble Astroturf) with the sculptural elements serving as an armature from which to hang the painting. The paintings consist of abstract, vaguely sexualized, forms played against the vibrant and over the top plasticity of the painted surface, while the deadpan supports include a range of found objects, all of which bear traces of use or decay.



Tom Burr takes a different approach, in which folded blankets and clothing tacked to the paintings’ surface substitute for, yet allude to, canvas and paint. Despite physically being flatter than Moffett’s and hanging on the wall, they seem to push more insistently towards the sculptural. What Moffett and Burr do have in common is using what might be considered disjunctive forms to affect a state of uncertainty, offering sometimes humorous and sometimes complex juxtapositions.


Donald Moffett, The Radiant Future, at Marianne Boesky Gallery, 509 W 24th St., through April 7, 2012.

Tom Burr, deep wood drive, at Bortolami, 520 W. 20th St., through April 26, 2012.

Catherine Opie continues her examination of gender as a construction, this time focusing on high school football players and their mannerisms of masculinity. Caught in the stage between adolescence and adulthood, the players put on the gestures of professionals, but Opie’s photographs show another side as well: vulnerable, innocent, and even sweet.




Catherine Opie, High School Football, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 W. 26th St., Through April 14, 2012.

Melanie Willhide reworks corrupted files on her hard drive. The story behind this project is that Willhide’s computer containing her images was stolen and recovered, but the hard drive had been erased. An attempt at data recovery salvaged portions of her work, which she then used as a basis for creating the images in this show. I like the approach: it is a very contemporary, if unfortunate, way to incorporate randomness into one’s work. It would have been interesting to see some of the corrupted files before they had been reworked.



Melanie Willhide, to Adrian Rodriguez, with love, at Von Lintel Gallery, 520 W. 23rd St., through March 24, 2012.

If you’ve ever wondered how Gerhard Richter makes those enormous abstract paintings, watch Corinna Belz’s documentary Gerhard Richter Painting now playing at the Film Forum. It is an interesting peak into the artist’s studio. The documentary shows Richter painting, speaking with gallerists, his assistants, and the filmmaker, as well as preparing for various shows around the world – I was very impressed with the thoroughness of his planning. In fact one of the fascinating subtexts in the film are the poles between the random and the controlled that permeate Richter’s work.



Gerhard Richter Painting at the Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St., through March 27, 2012.

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