New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 25 June 4 to 10, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Conceptual Minimalism
Sara VanDerBeek

Photo by Sara VanDerBeek . Source:
Sara VanDerBeek, "From the series Roman Women" 2012.

Sara VanDerBeek has produced some notable sets of images over the past few years (see the review of her small show at the Whitney Museum in 2010 here.) With a decidedly minimalist esthetic, she has photographed both her own sculptures and found objects to maximum advantage. As in the best minimalist art in any genre, her photographs are filled with telling details and small visual pleasures that emerge when the weight and distraction of ‘content’ are removed.

Unfortunately, in this her first show at Metro Pictures, VanDerBeek has let her minimalism become beclouded with a strong dose of conceptualism. The result is a show that induces responses ranging from a resigned ‘meh’ to a mildly irked ‘so what?’.

Photo by Sara VanDerBeek . Source:
Sara VanDerBeek, "Roman Women VIII" 2013.
The sculptural component of the show consists of several types of concrete-block monoliths, sometimes lying on the floor, painted with thick, white, latex paint. Clean and relatively smooth, the way painted concrete is, the columns by themselves could provide minutes of enjoyment under the correct chemical conditions. However, the columns have a more symbolic role, at least in relation to the initial group of photographs in the show. These large type C prints are of various Roman sculptures of women, both busts and figures, the white concrete monoliths are meant to represent the sculptures’ original sizes. This is the ‘meh’ part of the response; more irksome are that the prints are framed behind purple or pink sheets of plexiglass, giving them a dark, murky monotonality, presumably designed to deliberately distance the viewer from the original sculptures.

Photo by Sara VanDerBeek . Source:
Sara VanDerBeek, "Installation View, 2013, Metro Pictures, New York".
The central room of the gallery is devoted to large C-prints of a rusting metal wall. They all have a dark blue tonality, perhaps from the glazing, or perhaps in the printing of the photograph. It’s really hard to become engaged with or even to see these dark images as they are all fronted with a highly reflective glass. The brightly lit white concrete columns in the center of the room, the geometry of the surrounding galleries, and, of course, the visitors themselves scurrying through become the primary visual experience. Everybody likes multi-mirrored spaces, certainly photographers do, but what’s with the dark and dreary pictures in the background?

Since this reviewer didn’t have a clue, as a last resort I turned to the gallery press release. This didn’t really explain what was going on either, but did include a sparkling bon mot of Gallarish. “VanDerBeek approaches the breadth of civilization with an intimate immediacy, enabling her contemporary experience to exist within the continuum of history.” Yes, we can all sleep soundly tonight knowing that at least in this show, the continuum of history has not been broken.

Photo by Sara VanDerBeek . Source:
Sara VanDerBeek, "Metal Mirror (Magica Naturalis)" 2013.

Sara VanDerBeek

Metro Pictures
519 W 24th St. Ground Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 206 7100

Thursday, May 2 to
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat